Congress to work on Cha-cha next year

MANILA, Philippines -  Congressmen and senators will work on Charter change (Cha-cha) early next year to shift the nation to the federal system, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said yesterday.

He said in a radio interview that he and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel lll have agreed to convene their two chambers as a constituent assembly (con-ass) either in January or February.

He said work on Cha-cha has been delayed by the failure of President Duterte to appoint members of the constitutional commission created in December to draft a new Constitution outlining a federal system of government.

“Our plan with the Senate president is for us to name the members and for the commission to serve as our technical working group, which would come up with a draft that would change the form of government,” he added.

Alvarez pointed out that once the group submits a draft, the con-ass would have to conduct exhaustive deliberations on it and eventually approve its version of a new Constitution.

“After that, we will have to do a massive nationwide information campaign to inform the people of the contents of the new Charter before the holding of a plebiscite for them to ratify it,” he said.

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“So we will have a lot of work to do next year. Aside from our sessions as a lawmaking body, we will function as a Charter-writing assembly,” he said.

During the election campaign and his early months in office, President Duterte had repeatedly advocated a shift to the federal system as the solution to the underdevelopment and lack of powers of regions and local government units.

However, in recent months, he has failed to mention such advocacy. He has also failed to push his congressional allies to work on the federalism shift.

Originally, Alvarez had envisioned that a draft of a new Charter would be ready by next year and a change in the system of government would be effected by 2019.

That is obviously no longer possible. It is not even clear if the House and the Senate, assembled as a con-ass, could finish working on a new Constitution next year, since lawmakers would already be preparing and campaigning for the May 2019 midterm elections.

Both Alvarez and Pimentel are up for re-election. 

Thus, the Speaker’s original timetable for a switch to federalism would be set back by at least three years. Under his new timeline, the earliest the nation could shift to the federal system would be 2022, when President Duterte’s term ends.

Federalism advocates among congressmen have proposed several variations of the envisioned new form of government.  – With Perseus Echeminada