Senate, House agree to prioritize Cha-cha

MANILA, Philippines -  Leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed on a 35-item legislative agenda, which includes the amendment of the Constitution.

“We will prioritize the revision of the Constitution,” House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told reporters yesterday after a two-hour meeting of congressional leaders.

He said an amendment of the Charter would have two purposes: to shift the nation to the federal system and to accommodate the proposed new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

He said the Senate and the House would create a technical working group (TWG) of six or 12 members from each chamber to identify provisions of the Constitution that need to be rewritten to achieve the two objectives.

He said the group would work on the BBL-required changes ahead of those related to federalism.

Once the revised BBL-connected provisions are ready, the two chambers would convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) and approve them, he added.

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“The amendments could be submitted to the people in a plebiscite that could be held together with the barangay elections that we could postpone for a year,” Fariñas said.

He said all federalism-related proposals pending in the House would be referred to the TWG.

“We agreed on the federal system. As to what model, we did not discuss that,” he said.

Proponents of federalism in the House are Reps. Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental, Maximo Rodriguez Jr. of Cagayan de Oro City and Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur.

Benitez is proposing a mix of federal-presidential system with a two-chamber Congress but with senators elected by region instead of at large nationally.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, is pushing for the classic federal-parliamentary form with a unicameral or single-chamber legislature.

Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is advocating the revision of the Charter’s economic provisions only. Belmonte wants restrictions on the ownership of land and business lifted.

Fariñas said economic provisions would be tackled as well as those relating to the country’s political structure when Congress convenes as a con-ass.

He said plenary work on most of the bills in the agreed common legislative agenda is in its advanced state or already finished in either chamber of Congress.

“We are already finished on many of those measures, like the tax reform bill, death penalty, national land use, free irrigation. Those are pending with the Senate,” he said.

He said among the proposed laws in the common list are bills on national identification, procurement reform, creation of a disaster response agency and lessen traffic congestion.

“It’s no longer emergency powers, it’s a traffic congestion crisis bill. We intend to repeal all local ordinances making streets as parking areas,” he added.