Credibility Problem to Hound Lawmakers in Proposed Con-ass – UP Professor

Credibility Problem to Hound Lawmakers in Proposed Con-ass – UP Professor

MANILA, Philippines – With legislators suffering from a credibility problem, a Constituent assembly (Con-ass) of members of Congress may again experience difficulties getting public support, a law professor from the University of the Philippines said.

During a constitutional reform forum in Quezon City Thursday, UP Law Professor Ibarra Gutierrez said the current composition of Congress has not received a high degree of public trust.

In contrast, Gutierrez noted that a Constitutional convention would be a far more credible body. “It is hard to imagine Con-con to be less credible than Congress,” he said.

Speaking in the same forum, Akbayan party-list chairman Joel Rocamora said: “We proposed that the delegates of Con-con be elected at the same time as the presidential candidates of the 2010 elections.” This, according to him, would minimize expenses on the part of the government.

Also a speaker in the event, Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that Con-ass would entail less cost for the government. He warned that a Con-con would be more vulnerable to the Arroyo administration’s attempts to swamp the ranks of the delegates with its allies.

Pimentel was among the senators who introduced and signed Senate Joint Resolution No. 10 to convene Congress into a Constituent assembly to revise the 1987 Constitution for the stablishment of a federal system of government.

Rocamora, however, disagreed with Pimentel’s views. “It is possible that Senator Pimentel is convinced that Constituent assembly is better. But in the opinion of Akbayan, the only participatory and democratic way is an elected Constitutional convention,” he said.

The failure of Congress to pass quality reform measures to improve the lives of the poor is enough reason why the citizenry should not entrust Charter change and the federalism proposal to politicians, said one group calling for a constitutional reform.

“The repercussions will be more serious and far-reaching if the Constitutional reform process paving the way for a federal system is left to a Con-ass (Constituent assembly) composed of Congressional members with dismal records in asset reform,” said Raul Socrates Banzuela, national coordinator of the Coalition for a Citizens’ Constitution.

Banzuela said the loopholes created by a landlord-dominated Congress in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law already made it difficult for numerous farmer-beneficiaries to actually possess the lands that they have tilled.

“How can we trust the landed politicians forming a Constituent assembly to craft a Constitution when they did not perform well in terms of asset reform legislations?” Banzuela asked.

“Speaker Prospero Nograles recently gave pronouncements regarding his intention to remove the provisions on the 40-percent foreign ownership limit, which are actually protective of the rights of the Filipinos, particularly the basic sectors,” Banzuela said.

“If this happens, then the Constitution that the lawmakers might draft would hardly be considered as reflective of the aspirations of the poor,” he said.

Based on Akbayan’s experience in the last Charter change attempt by former Speaker Jose de Venecia in 2006, Rocamora said constitutional reform under a Con-ass would be have been used to extend the term of government officials.

Allaying fears of what occurred in 2006, Pimentel said: “There is no hidden agenda in this Resolution (No. 10).”

The senator said he will fight for the proposal that the two chambers will vote separately in a Con-ass. This, Pimentel said, is to prevent the outcome of the debates from being won by the sheer number of the members of the House of Representatives. – Artemio F. Cusi III, GMANews.TV

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