The hearings on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House Justice Committee are expected to wind up within two months or so, committee chair Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali told Bloomberg Philippines TV Friday evening, but seemingly with a tangential hint that there seems to be NOT a lot of time to spare.
Umali said: “I hope to complete it by February, but if we can’t beat that deadline – and this is my personal deadline – we’ll probably spill over to March.”
This would mean getting the Senate to tackle the impeachment trial by May, if it comes to that, after the Holy Week break and the requisite plenary proceedings in the lower chamber.
But, in the calendar of the House of Representatives, the Sereno impeachment is not exactly the year’s single One Big Agenda.
Tsunami year ahead
2018 looks to be “very busy”, indeed, as there are still the other big-ticket issues like Charter Change, Federalism, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) – looking more like a big looming tsunami.
Not to mention that 2018 is the build-up year toward the 2019 mid-term elections.
Umali acknowledged that the big question for a lot of people is will there be enough time for all of this? “That is correct. That is why there was that pronouncement of the Speaker himself when he talked about the House forming into a Constituent Assembly where we will perform an extra-ordinary constitutional mandate focusing on amending the Constitution.”
“And for us to be able to complete all the work, including federalism and charter change and, of course, BBL, I think I agree with Speaker Alvarez that, perhaps, we may be looking at the ‘No Election’, or No-El, scenario.
“The 2019 mid-term election may have to be postponed to pave the way for us to complete our task as a Constituent Assembly.”
That means that the House could be seriously looking at a No-Election scenario.
“That’s the only way that we can really complete our task in amending the constitution and establishing a new form of government, which is the priority of the President,” Umali shrugs.
“The President has promised this in 2016, and we are pretty focused on fulfilling this promise, helping the President fulfill this promise.”
Con-Ass rather than Con-Con
“We are more inclined to pursue it on a con-ass track rather than through con-con (constitutional convention). I think this is the path that the Speaker is taking now. And this is probably the faster way because if we’re unable to complete this task, I don’t think federalism and/or cha-cha will ever happen. And it has to happen on the first semester of the President’s term.”
Because, Umali explained, when that doesn’t happen, then the country will be looking at the elections all over again, “and more than that, of course, politics will be at play. And there will be other concerns to consider, like, knowing the propensity of the opposition to bring this to the Supreme Court, then it will take a long time. When this happens, you don’t get to approve the constitutional change by 2022.” Then it’s curtains for President Duterte’s term.
Not exactly in aid of term extension
But there will be those who look at all this as “isn’t this a way of extending everybody’s term?”
Umali didn’t think so: “Not to my appreciation, because there is a mission. And the mission is to move from a presidential to federal form of government, which I believe is also a matter that needs to be considered, considering Mindanao’s predicament.
“In the mind of the President and many of the leaders, especially in Mindanao, if we’re unable to establish that state in Moro land, then things might be a lot more difficult for us. It’ll be bloody. It might be something that we don’t want to happen.”
Timing is so important
Umali said the con-ass resolution is now on second reading, being deliberated in plenary, “and so we hope to complete this by January, so that we can already convene as con-ass. And when this happens, we’re already put to task. One: Give priority to BBL because there’ll be some constitutional issues that will affect BBL. We hope to submit this into a plebiscite by May.
“And for No-El, of course, we’ll need submission to the people through a plebiscite, so perhaps this is another matter that ought to be submitted as well.
“And then the other constitutional changes, including change of form of government will proceed as we continue to perform our mandate as con-ass. Timing is so important. In all of these things that’s why Congress has to focus on all of this work and try to complete the task within these timelines.”