Zubiri: Senate to prioritize LEDAC bills over Cha-cha
The Senate will prioritize the measures identified as such by the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) over measures seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Tuesday.
In an interview with reporters, Zubiri said that amending the Constitution was never included in the chamber's agenda.
He likewise reiterated that measures on Charter change were never discussed during the LEDAC meeting on Monday.
"Wala naman sa agenda namin ang Charter change. Kung nakita niyo it's about 20 legislative priorities ang pinag-usapan namin sa LEDAC. Wala po doon ang Charter change," Zubiri said.
(Charter change is not on the agenda. If you look there are 20 legislative priorities we discussed at the LEDAC. Charter change is not among them.)
Should Senate constitutional amendments and revision of codes chairman Robin Padilla conduct a hearing on these measures, Zubiri said, he may do so but it can go as far as the crafting of a committee report.
"He has the mandate to do so. He can do so but it's not a priority our administration...we would like to finish the 20 priority measures that are still pending with us," the Senate president said.
"I'm not saying it's dead...pero hanggang committee report lang 'yan kasi kailangan niya po maglabas ng committee report and we have to see kung pipirmahan ba ng mga colleagues natin yung committee report kasi may kausap akong mga senador na hindi sila pabor na pag-usapan ang Charter change itong mga panahon na ito," he said.
(I'm not saying it's dead...but it'll only go as far as the committee report because he has to release it and we have to see if our colleagues will sign it, because I've been talking to some of the senatrs and they are not in favor of discussing Charter change at the moment.)
Among the measures that they will focus on are the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP); the creation of the Center for Disease Control and the Virology Institute of the Philippines; the Medical Corps bill; the Maharlika Investment Fund bill; and the Mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and National Service Training Program (NSTP).
He likewise welcomed President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s saying Cha-cha is not a priority.
"At this point of time, ayaw po natin pasukan ng isang [we don't want to get into a] divisive issue and I think this will be a very divisive issue and I think what the country needs to do right now is to focus [on] post-pandemic recovery and reconstruction. Doon muna tayo [Let's just stick with that for the moment]," Zubiri said.
This stand was also shared by other senators, Zubiri said.
"Sumasang-ayon po tayo sa Pangulo na hindi urgent o napapanahon ngayon para sa Charter change. May mga batas na po tayong naipasa para maka-attract ang bansa ng mas maraming foreign investors, at patuloy pa rin po ang Senado sa trabahong ito," Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said in a statement.
(I agree with the President that Charter change is not urgent or appropriate at the moment. We have passed laws to attract more foreign investors, and the Senate will continue with this work.)
In a separate interview, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said timing is very important in amending the Constitution.
Right now, he added, it would just be an additional distraction as the country is still recovering from the pandemic.
"I'll be a hyprocite if I tell you that perfect ang Constitution. Maraming dapat diyan palitan. Ang problema yung ibang kailangang palitan diyan ay very political. So in a very controversial administration or political situation, ngayong galing sa pandemic, additional distraction talaga. Madi-distract lang tayo," he said.
(I'll be a hyprocite if I tell you that the Constitution is perfect. There are a lot of things about it that must be changed. The prolem is that what have to be changed are veryh political. So in a very controversial administration or political situation, now that we are recovering from a pandemic, these are additional distractions. We will only be distracted.)
For Senator Grace Poe, the president's recent statement on Cha-cha will definitely affect the consensus in the Senate.
"Kung hindi susuporta ang Pangulo, mas uunahin ng Kongreso ang mga nasa priority list tulad ng Internet Transactions Act o CDC bill," she said.
(If the President doesn't support it, Congress will choose those on the priority list such as the Internet Transactions Act or the CDC bill.)
Poe said that there are recently approved measures that can address the supposed economic restrictions in the Constitution, such as the Amendments on the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act and the Foreign Investments Act.
"Kung foreign investments lang din ang usapin [If we're talking about foreign investments], it might not be relevant to go around the public asking if they agree to term extensions or other non-economic provisions. Hindi naman tungkol sa foreign investments 'yan [Those aren't about foreign investments]. These discussions scare away foreign investment and confuse the public as to whether Charter change is just for political gain," she said.
Although she agrees that there is a need to revise the economic provision of the Constitution, Senator Imee Marcos said the other parts of the Charter might be tinkered.
"Ang problema pag buksan mo ang Saligang Batas, talagang kakalkalin lahat. 'Di maiiwasan 'yon. Kaya given the state of our economy and health threats that face us today, 'yung kapatid ko matagal nang sinasabi talaga na huwag muna 'yung constitutional issues dahil mahabang usapin 'yan at baka cannot afford tayo ngayon," Marcos said in an ambush interview.
(The problem is if you open the Constitution to change, you will upend everything. You can't avoid that. So given the state of our economy and health threats that face us today, my brother has always said not to go into constitutional issues as that will be a lengthy discussion and we can't afford it right now.)
'I'm sorry, Mr. President'
In a separate statement Padilla, who filed a measure amending several economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, asserted that the Public Services Act have yet to be felt one year after its passage.
"Paano natin ibebenta sa foreign investor na meron kami na itong public utility pwede na kayong mag-invest dito? E one year na, wala pang IRR. Kinukwestyon pa ng maraming nagrereklamo at sinasabi nila na unconstitutional ito. Kung ikaw ba, investor ka, makita mo gusto ko mag-invest sa public utility na 'yan at nabalitaan mo, teka may nagkukuwestyon, magbibigay ka ng pera?" he said in a radio interview.
(How will we attract foreign investors with the Public Service Act when it still has no IRR, and some groups are still questioning its constitutionality? If you were a foreign investor and you learned about these issues, will you still invest in the Philippines?)
Padilla said he aims to have the constitutional amendments hurdle the bicameral committee level by August and he will push to conduct a plebiscite to coincide with the barangay elections this October.
"Dapat mga June po [matapos ang hearings]. Kasi sa Saligang Batas sinasabi po doon, mangyari po ang ating pag-ratify ang plebisito sabi po doon hindi aaga ng 60 days. Hindi rin sosobra ng 90 days. So meron lang po tayong maiksing maiksi para makasabay tayo sa barangay election para makatipid tayo," he said.
(We should have a committee hearing first. Under the Constitution, the ratification should not be earlier than 60 days nor exceed 90 days. So we have a short time to make sure the plebiscite lines up with the barangay elections, so we can save funds.)
After the president issued his statement on Cha-cha, Padilla said he has no hard feelings against Marcos.
""Pag titingnan po natin ang dati niyang interview noong siya po ay mambabatas, naniniwala siya noon na kailangan ay ng ating economic provisions sa Saligang Batas kailangan magbukas tayo sa foreign investment. Pero siyempre presidente siya, wala na 'yan sa mandato niya, tama lang po yan," Padilla said.
(If you look at his past interviews when he was a lawmaker, he believed that the economic provisions in the Constitution should be open to foreign investment. But of course he is President now, and if it's not in his mandate then that is fine.)
"Pagdating sa Saligang Batas, I’m sorry Mr. President, wala po ito, hindi niyo po ito pwede saklawan. Ang masusunod dito taumbayan. Sila magdedesisyon ito bang economic provision na sinusulong dito ay dapat bang tanggapin o hindi. Wala ito sa kapangyarihan ng Pangulo," he said.
(When it comes to the Constitution, I'm sorry Mr. President, this is outside your scope. The people must be followed here. They are the ones who should decide whether to accept these economic provisions or not. This is not in the President's power.) — BM, GMA Integrated News