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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Despite House ‘express,’ Migz says Senate won’t rush Cha-cha

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SENATORS are not likely to be stampeded into rushing approval of the House-endorsed move to amend the 1987 Constitution, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri said at the weekend.

Asked about the House of Representatives move endorsing on second reading a bill providing for the creation and funding of a Constitutional Convention, Zubiri said in a radio interview with DWIZ that the House’s fast-tracked speed notwithstanding, the upper chamber will take a more deliberate approach to the initiative.

He said this days after flatly calling “fake news” an online report that his peers were planning to oust him—in a move supposedly favored by Malacanang—for the allegedly slow pace at which administration bills were being approved in the Senate. Some colleagues had said the “float” about a Senate “coup” could be tied to efforts to shake up the Senate and make it easier to pass a Charter-change measure.

Sharing the view of both majority and minority senators, Senate President  Zubiri  recalled Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III’s observation that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has nothing to do with amending the Constitution.

“Sinabi niya na walang pakialam si Presidente sa pag-amyenda ng Constitution. Pero tama po sya diyan…without the support of the President, alam mo mahirap din itulak ito dahil syempre ang  budgeting nito manggagaling sa DBM,” Zubiri said, noting, “Ang pera at pondo manggagaling sa Executive.”

[He said the President has no part in Charter change. He is right there; without the President’s support, it’s hard to push it because the budget for the initiative will come from DBM. The money will come from the Executive].

Zubiri added, partly in Filipino: “Second, the truth is that we don’t have the numbers for Charter change. Even if I were to push it, a ¾ vote is needed in the Senate, which is 18 votes. Almost half of those I talked to are against Charter change. Why should we divide the Senate on the charter change issue, when there are many LEDAC measures we still have to tackle. We will only lose focus.”

He was referring to the list of measures endorsed by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, which  the two chambers had promised to give priority to.

The Senate leader said they would rather help the people asking for support, and spend time on measures that will help people rather than waste time “discussing Charter change . . .  and then at the end of the day there is no vote anyway.”

Zubiri said it made no sense “wasting a lot of time and effort …a lot of energy and funding discussing a measure for which we cannot muster the votes. So I said, it’s not a priority at this point in time.”

Apparently referring to his peers’ theory about Charter change being at the root of the “coup” report, he added: “Kaya sabi ko nga baka nga binabanatan ako ngayon, iniintriga ako ngayon dahil sa stand nga sa [So I said to myself, maybe that’s why I’m being hit, I’m being intrigued against because of my stand on] Charter change.”

Still, he added, some members of the House assured him they only wanted to touch the Charter’s economic provisions, described by some as being too restrictive as to discourage investors. Despite their assurance, he noted that, “as a long-time legislator” he knows that “we cannot control the flow of discussions among Con-Con delegates” once it is set up.

If delegates wish to review “Article 1 to the last article of the Constitution, they can do so, including the political provisions. Nothing can stop them if that’s what they want. That’s the real danger.”

Even in a constituent assembly, he added, “there’s no congressman or senator who can be prevented from proposing federal government, proposing the abolition of the Senate, or a unicameral parliament.”

If that happens, he projects there will really be trouble. “The people will get mad at us.” Thus, he counsels, “let us use what we have now, which is an effective constitution. Let us continue, anyway we have passed the economic measures that they wanted” when they were justifying amendments to the Constitution. We have enacted these into law.” He was referring mainly to the trio of liberalization measures passed in the 18th Congress: amendments to the. 80-plus-year-old Public Service Act, amended retail trade liberalization law and the Foreign Investments Act.

Meanwhile, he pointed out that, for the record “we have approved many key measures” in the 19th Congress, topped by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). For the first time in the history of the Senate, he added, the Senate President and the Senate President Pro Tempore defended a landmark measure  and opened themselves to interpellation. “Usually the Senate President does not do that, but we did that just to speed up approval of RCEP.”

Senators also passed the remedial legislation on  condonation on interest of loans for agrarian reform beneficiaries, as well as the  Armed Forces of the Philippines Attrition Law, and the  SIM Registration Act, as well as the postponement of Barangay Elections, the General Appropriations Act and then discussion on amendments to the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) Law, Medical Reserve Corps, CDC law, creation of Virology Institute, as well as the Internet Transaction Act, Zubiri noted.

All are measures on LEDAC’s priority list of 10 items for passage by June, he added.

Image credits: Zatletic | Dreamstime.com

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