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ConCom: 56% support federalism

Mario J. Mallari

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At least 56 percent of Filipinos support a shift to a federal form of government based on the latest Pulse Asia survey, the Consultative Committee (ConCom) which drafted the so-called Federal Constitution told the Senate yesterday.

In a presentation by spokesman Conrado “Ding” Generoso, the ConCom dubbed “misleading” the prevailing conclusion on the June 15 to 21 survey – that Filipinos purportedly oppose charter change and federalism.

Generoso said, on the contrary, the Pulse Asia survey showed strong support for federalism at 56 percent and a high enough support for charter change at 48 percent.

To illustrate his point, the ConCom spokesman cited the answer choices on whether Filipinos see a need to shift to a federal form of government, as follows:
1. Yes, now (28 percent) 2. Not now but sometime in the future (28 percent) 3. Not ever (34 percent) and 4. Don’t know (11 percent).

Lumped together, the 28 percent who chose answer 1 and the other 28 percent who ticked answer 2 represented 56 percent of the respondents, the ConCom pointed out.
“The real test will be when the proposed Constitution is submitted for ratification in a plebiscite,” Generoso said.

More glaring was the twisted interpretation on public support for charter change or the lack thereof as claimed by opposition figures.

Generoso cited the following answer choices provided by Pulse Asia regarding the question whether the 1987 Constitution should be amended:
1. Yes, should be amended now (18 percent) 2. Not now but sometime in the future (30 percent) 3. Not ever (37 percent) and 4. Don’t know (14 percent).

“It is wrong to lump together answers 2 and 3 and (then) conclude that 67 percent are opposed,” Generoso said. “One and 2 should be lumped together because No. 2 is not a ‘no’ but a qualified ‘yes.’”

So, in reality, 48 percent are in favor of changing the Constitution, the ConCom asserted through its spokesman.

Hands-off policy
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno yesterday acknowledged only Congress has the sole authority to postpone elections.

Puno, the chairman of ConCom, stressed the committee has maintained a hands-off policy to talks of cancelling next year’s mid-term polls.

During the Senate hearing on charter change, Puno said it was the unanimous decision of the committee not to deep its fingers into the talks of postponing the elections.

“To our mind, this is unanimous decision, the right to decide on that (postponement of elections) is Congress, that’s the exclusive power of Congress. We don’t want to deep our fingers into that,” said Puno, chairman of Concom.

Time talk
Pressed by Sen. Bam Aquino on the timetable of the shift to federalism, Puno replied, “Again, the timetable rests on Congress (Senate and House of Representatives).”

“We don’t want to encroach on (the power of Congress)… whatever Congress would say, we will follow,” Puno explained.

Earlier, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had floated the idea of cancelling next year’s elections to give way to the shift to federal government.

Aquino, however, stressed majority of the senators are actually against the postponement of the mid-term elections next year.

Meanwhile, ConCom members were one in saying the Senate and House of Representatives should vote separately, in case they convene into a constitutional assembly (con-ass) to tackle charter change (cha-cha).

“Voting should be separate… that was voted upon by the committee,” Puno said.

Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel II echoed Puno’s pronouncement, stressing House of Representatives alone cannot proceed with charter change without Senate.

“Two hundred eighty plus members of the House will deluge 24 senators if you vote jointly,” Pimentel said.

Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Prof. Julio Teehanke, both members of Concom, also favored the separate voting for the Senate and the House of Representatives.

On the other hand, retired SC Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. reiterated his opposition to the move to charter change along with several individuals from the academe.
Davide raised the possibility the charter change was only meant to benefit President Duterte and his allies.

Debunked
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque and President Duterte himself had debunked the “term extension” claims with the latter saying he’s even willing to cut short his term and that he’s not even interested in serving as a transition president.

In his opening statement, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendment, maintained the decision to tinker with the current Constitution remains in the hands of the Filipino people through a plebiscite.

“I want to clarify to the public and to our resource persons that as of now, the Senate has no formal stand on the issue whether there is a need for charter change or not,” Pangilinan said.

“If this is timely? If federalism is the answer to the problems of our country and whether it’s con-ass or con-con the better way to change the Constitution,” Pangilinan said.

Con-ass refers to both houses of Congress forming a constituent assembly to draft a new charter, either by adopting ConCom’s final draft or writing one from scratch.

Alternative
The alternative mode to con-ass is by con-con or constitutional convention which is to elect first members to a con-com that will then write the new Constitution.

Whether via con-ass or con-con, any proposed charter will have to be approved by Filipinos of voting age through a plebiscite.

Sen. Grace Poe, for her part, said she is not immediately junking the draft Federal Constitution approved by Concom as she vowed to thoroughly study the proposal.

Poe noted the tug-of-war between two extreme sides — one demanding the approval of the draft without thinking while the other is to reject it outright.

“I take the centrist view of giving the Concom’s product the courtesy of a thorough study, subject it to intense debate, so that we can all make an informed choice,” Poe said.

“A document as important as the basic law should be rigorously studied and not railroaded. I will block any cha-cha express, especially one driven by people with expiring terms and fueled by selfish interest,” she added.

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