No need for Duterte’s blessing to resume Cha-cha talks

The House of Representatives does not need the blessing of President Rodrigo Duterte to resume discussions on Charter change (Cha-cha), Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace respects the decision of the lower chamber to restart public hearings on cha-cha.

“Hindi naman kinakailangang bigyan ng basbas ng Presidente iyan—iyan naman po’y katungkulan talaga ng Kongreso. Tanging Kongreso lang po ang pupuwedeng magsimula ng proseso para sa Charter change, hindi po ang Presidente (It is not necessary for them to have the President’s blessing— that is really the duty of Congress. Only Congress can begin the process for charter change, not the President),” he said in a Palace press briefing.

However, he also said Duterte and his administration will still prioritize efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the country and implement its economic recovery plan.

“Nirirespeto po natin iyan at sa ngayon po ang number one priority natin ang Covid-19 lalung-lalo na ang usaping vaccine (We respect their decision, but for now our priority is Covid-19, especially talks about acquiring vaccines),” he added.

Roque also dismissed anew rumors that the House’s cha-cha is a move to extend the terms of officials including that of Duterte.

“Tsismis lang po iyan (Those are just rumors). The President has made it clear, wala po siyang kahit anong kagustuhan na manatili ng isang minuto man lang (he has no any desire to stay even one minute longer) beyond his term of office on June 30, 2022,” he said.

On Wednesday, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government is targeting to secure at least 148 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for the country in 2021.

However, he said the acquisition will still be dependent on the global supply since rich nations have already secured 80 percent of the vaccines worldwide

“Wala pong ibang top priority ang Pangulo kung hindi matapos po itong pandemyang ito sa pamamagitan ng pagbibigay ng bakuna sa ating mga kababayan (The President does not have any other priority except to end this pandemic by providing vaccines to our citizens),” Roque said.

The government is currently in “advanced stages of negotiations” with pharmaceutical companies Novavax, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Sinovac and Gamaleya.

Resumption of cha-cha talks developed after Speaker Lord Allan Velasco met with House leaders who previously chaired the constitutional amendments panel.

House committee on constitutional amendments chairperson Alfredo Garbin Jr. said the hearings will focus solely on economic provisions and not amendments on political provisions like term extension.

Garbin said his panel would resume deliberations on proposals to liberalize the Constitution’s economic provisions next Wednesday.

Total overhaul unlikely

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a piecemeal approach and not a total overhaul may be possible in making amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

“Often, pag charter change ang pinagusapan, napakasikip kaagad. Halos imposible. Baka amendments to the charter. Baka one or two points kung ano ang pag aamyendahan doon. May pag-asa pa. Kapag sinabi mong charter change, it is the entire Constitution that you are going to replace. Hindi ganun kadali iyan dahil sa research sa term of tenure. To amend a certain provision or provisions, mapapag-usapan iyan. (When charter change is the topic. it becomes difficult. Almost impossible. One or two points to be amended. There is hope in that. When you say charter change, you refer to the entire Constitution it is not easy. (But) to amend certain provisions, that can be discussed),” Sotto said in an online interview with reporters Thursday.

This came after Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino filed a resolution to convene Congress as a Constituent assembly (Con-ass) to initiate limited amendments to the Charter.

Sotto, meanwhile, expressed optimism on passing possible amendments on economic provisions and the party-list system.

“Ang malinaw na tinanong ng Presidente pag upo niya ay sinabi niya na (What the President clearly asked is) ‘I want this problem with the CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines –New People’s Army] solved’. So, hinintay ko kung ano ang sasabihin niya (I waited for what he would say) about it. Sabi niya na (He said) the best way is that we remove the party-list system, or change it in the Constitution so we can call for a constituent assembly and amend that. And then of course, samantalahin ninyo na (take advantage of it). You can amend the economic provisions, sabi niya (that is what he said),” Sotto said.

Sotto also denied reports claiming that the proposed amendments aim to change term limits for elective officials.

“Eh hindi totoo iyon (That is not true). I can tell you bluntly na walang sinabing ganoon ang Pangulo (the President did not mention anything about it),” Sotto said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also expressed misgivings about the plan to reform the Constitution.

“Without the certainty that both chambers of Congress will be voting separately, and there is none due to the vagueness of that particular provision in the 1987 Constitution – and only the Supreme Court can make such interpretation – it’s like taking one big step into a mousetrap, or even quicksand for that matter,” Lacson said. “Having said that, I think all of us 24 senators should discuss this matter very carefully before we even consider plenary debates on the said resolution if indeed there is one filed.”

Source: Philippines News agency

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