House panel to discuss Cha-cha proposals after Duterte's SONA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 20) — The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments is opening deliberations once again on Charter reform when Congress opens session later this month, its panel chair said Monday, amid allegations that the real motive in tinkering with the constitution is to postpone the 2022 elections.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said his committee is ready to discuss proposals from local government officials to amend the 1987 Constitution within the first two weeks of session, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second regular session will start on July 27, the same day that President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

“I will call a virtual meeting of our committee possibly within the first two weeks of our session to tackle the proposals of our 1,489 town mayors and other pending measures,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

The lawmaker was referring to the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, composed of mayors mostly allied with the Duterte administration, and their proposal to institutionalize the so-called Mandanas Ruling of the Supreme Court in the Constitution.

Under the ruling, regions will get their share from all national taxes, apart from internal revenue allotments. This will supposedly help local government units address the pandemic better and "strengthen local autonomy" in the country, Rodriguez said.

The LMP also sought to lift restrictions on foreign investment in industries currently limited to Filipinos. Rodriguez hinted easier deliberations on this proposal due to pending resolutions already docked in the lower chamber.

“Especially this time when we need more foreign investments and to invite more foreign businesses relocating from China, in order to provide much needed jobs for our people, this amendment is worth considering," he added.

In a separate briefing, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said that there is nothing wrong with discussing Charter change in the House. However, holding a plebiscite to approve constitutional amendments seem impractical at this time.

He also said that the lower chamber will not force constitutional reform on people if they do not want it.

"I think people should discuss it but they should not worry it will be rammed down their throat. We only want constitutional change if the people want it, and want it very badly," Cayetano said.

Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday slammed the fresh calls to amend the Constitution and cited the "misplaced priorities" of the administration including the swift passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the killing of ABS-CBN's franchise bid.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned over the weekend that the real motive of those rallying for Cha-cha is to postpone the 2022 national and local elections and to remove politicians' term limit. He and Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III had expressed confidence that Cha-cha will not be part of Senate priorities during the start of the session.

Cha-cha not Duterte's priority

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that Duterte has not floated the idea of pushing through with Charter reforms anytime soon, while the government grapples with the prevailing crisis.

"Linggo-linggo nakipag-usap naman ang Pangulo sa taumbayan at hindi naman po lumulutang ang Charter change bilang isang prayoridad," he said.

[Translation: Every week, the President speaks to the public and Charter change does not appear in the list of priorities.]

"Nakatutok ang Presidente, ang buong national government dito sa COVID-19. Hindi po prayoridad ang Charter change."

[Translation: The President, the national government is focused on COVID-19. Charter change is not a priority.]

Duterte admitted last year that passing federalism — one of his main campaign promises in the 2016 elections — would unlikely push through, as many Filipinos still do not support the proposed shift.

However, Malacañang said back in December that the President will not intervene in the affairs of Congress should they start tackling anew proposals to amend the Constitution.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.