Congress has final say on draft Charter Fariñas says as law teacher asks SC to rule on con-ass vote

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House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas (Reuters File)

MANILA, Philippines — Congress will have the final say on the draft Constitution to be presented to the people for ratification and may choose to adopt or not the recommendations of the consultative body created by President Rodrigo Duterte, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of the House of Representatives said.

Meanwhile, a law professor has petitioned the Supreme Court to clarify on whether a constituent assembly requires the two chambers of Congress to vote jointly or separately on the recommended amendments to the Constitution.

“The matter or manner of proposing amendments to or revision of the Constitution is a power exclusively retained by the sovereign Filipino (people) directly or thru their duly elected representatives, that is, the Congress of the Philippines,” Fariñas said.

“As the name connotes, it is a consultative, or advisory, commission of the President. It cannot, and will not work in tandem with the Congress,” he added. “Of course, the Congress may consider the Commission’s recommendations, as well as those of any citizen, and may adopt or not adopt them at all.”

On Thursday, January 25, the President named former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno as head of the consultative committee that will review the 1987 Constitution.

Puno will be joined by former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., lawyers, members of academe and former magistrates.

The House committee on constitutional amendments is currently conducting hearings and consultations on Charter change. The Senate has also resumed its own hearings.

But Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said both Congress and the consultative committee are expected to toe Duterte’s line on Charter change.

“Despite two bodies consisting of the Congress and the consultative committee discharging duplicating roles of reviewing the 1987 Constitution, any fear that ‘too many cooks will spoil the broth’ is foreclosed because the principal chef in Malacañang controls the recipe,” he said.

“The Congress, which is mainly subservient to the President, and the consultative committee recently constituted by the President, are expected to endorse President Rodrigo Duterte’s insistent call for the adoption of a federal system,” he added.

What is crucial, Lagman said, is to find out if people are aware of the reasons, advantages and disadvantages of the shift to federalism.

In a separate statement, Akbayan party-list Representative Tom Villarin said he hopes Congress would give value to the output of the consultative body.

“It would be recalled that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created a consultative commission that recommended a unicameral parliamentary form of government, full decentralization of the national government, and devolving more powers to local government units,” he said.

“But in the end, the mode of revising the Charter will have to be decided. If the commission calls for a constitutional convention, then con-ass should be shelved,” he added.

The 11-page petition of Arturo de Castro, dean of the College of Criminology at the University of Manila, also asked the Supreme Court to assert its powers of judicial review on the question of Charter change and reject the arguments of congressional leaders who claim revising the Constitution is a political question.

De Castro is also a professor of law and lecturer on mandatory continuing legal education.