House panel-approved charter change plan too expensive, senators say

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 28) — A number of senators find it too expensive to amend the Constitution through a constitutional convention (con-con), as proposed by their counterparts in the House of Representatives.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved on Monday a proposal to elect 253 con-con delegates simultaneous with the Oct. 30 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Some 51 other delegates will be appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker from various sectors. They will all be given ₱10,000 for every day of attendance at the convention.

Asked about this in a press conference on Tuesday, Senator Robin Padilla - chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes - said he is happy about the progress in the House, but voiced concern about the cost of electing and convening a con-con.

"Una papayag ba taumbayan diyan napakamahal niyan? Sobrang mahal niyan," Padilla said. "Naglabas ang NEDA eleksyon pa lang ₱28 billion na, wala pa yung gastos sa pasweldo ng con-con delegates, opisina nila, syempre meron din yan. Malaki yan."

"Sa akin doon muna tayo sa pinakamatipid," he added. "Di natin masyadong isa-shock ang taumbayan, eleksyon na naman? May election na ang barangay, may election na naman sa con-con, para tayong laging nag-e-election."

[Translation: First, will the people agree to that because it is so expensive? That's too expensive. NEDA released ₱28B just for the election, which does not include the salary expenses of the con-con delegates, their office. That's big. For me, we have to choose the most economical way. Let's not surprise the people too much about another election. The barangay has an election, there is another election in the con-con, it's like we always have elections.]

Padilla prefers the constituent assembly option, where members of Congress themselves will introduce amendments to the Constitution.

Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said con-con is the most expensive and most laborious way to change the Charter.

"Masyadong mataas ang pinapanukalang ₱10,000 na sweldo kada araw ng mga delegado (The ₱10,000 daily stipend of delegates is too expensive)," he added.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said Charter change (Cha-cha) will only sideline more urgent issues.

"The economy is worsening and the agricultural sector is laden with so much scandal," Hontiveros pointed out. "Redirecting large amounts of our limited resources to Charter change at this time will just do more damage."


Padilla called on House lawmakers to focus on economic provisions for now, to give Cha-cha a chance of being passed in the 19th Congress.

He said this "compromise" will avoid yet another deadlock, like what happened in past Congresses.

Still, Padilla said he is open to other opinions from the public.

He said he will hold the Senate committee's first out-of-town public consultation in Davao City on Thursday.

Padilla said he wanted to invite his "No.1 Adviser," former President Rodrigo Duterte, but the former chief executive is keeping a "low profile for now."

This will be followed by two more hearings in Luzon and the Visayas, before coming up with a committee report that Padilla hopes to sponsor in the plenary in time for President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.'s second State of the Nation Address in July.

While Padilla admitted he has yet to secure the numbers in the Senate, he said he is confident three other members of their political party PDP-Laban will vote for "economic" Cha-cha.

But Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who belongs to a rival PDP-Laban faction, reiterated that there are already three recently passed laws opening up the country's economy.

"We have to give these laws a chance to work," he said, referring to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and Foreign Investment Act.

Senator Nancy Binay said the government should instead focus on implementing these laws.