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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, July 12, 2018
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House Speaker backs NFR,
rough sailing seen in Senate


House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez yesterday aired his support for the draft federal constitution, including the creation of the Negrosanon Federated Region, but it faces unchartered waters in the Senate, a Consultative Committee member said.

Arthur Aguilar, the lone Negrense member of the ConCom tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to review the 1987 Constitution, said the other ConCom members met with Alvarez yesterday and are set to meet with Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto today.

They are paying courtesy calls on them to present copies of the draft federal constitution approved by the President this week, he said.

The draft, which is up for study by both houses of Congress, if approved will then be subjected to a plebiscite, he added.

Alvarez yesterday was very keen and supportive of a shift to federalism and the inclusion of the NFR among the 18 federated regions to be created, Aguilar said. The new charter is expected to be approved in the Lower House but could face rough sailing in the Senate, he said.

“The 1987 Constitution says you can amend or revise the Constitution with the vote of both houses of Congress, it does not say whether it should be jointly or separately, which becomes a big contentious issue,” he said.

If it is done jointly, the Senate votes will be drowned out by the numbers of the House, Aguilar said.

So the Senate has always taken the view that it should be separate voting, he said. In separate voting you need 18 votes for it to pass the Senate, which has 23 senators, he added.

“It could face rough sailing in the Senate, it could be almost impossible to get all 18 votes,” he added.

“That means you can even have an overwhelming majority in the Lower House but if you don’t have the 18 votes from the Senate the new Constitution is no go,” Aguilar said.

Some senators are not even in favor of constitutional change at all if you go by their public pronouncements, he added.

So it is not certain if the Senate will agree to join the Lower House in a Constituent Assembly, or opt to review the draft Constitution as two separate bodies, Aguilar said.

Senator Sonny Angara told the DAILY STAR he has yet to read the draft federal constitution, “but given that this is a virtual overhaul of our system of government I expect major debates and that should be the case to come up with the best for our people,” he said.

“We expect it to undergo serious review and scrutiny. That’s the demand of writing a constitution. It should be studied and debated on well,” ConCom spokesman Ding Generoso said.

Under the present system, senators are elected at-large by a nationwide vote, while under the federal system two senators each per region will be elected or a total of 36, Aguilar he added.

The majority of the current senators are from Metro Manila that will be entitled to only two senators, he pointed out.

Under the draft proposal six months after the new constitution is ratified by the people, a transition president and vice president should be elected into office, Aguilar said, pointing out that Duterte has stressed that if possible he wants to step down before his term ends.

Negros Occidental Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said “senators will be elected by region, I think many of the incumbent officials may be affected and because of that the Senate may not agree to the proposal.”

“We’ll see how the senators will act with regards to the draft,” he added.

The draft federal charter approved recently by Duterte may face rough sailing in the Senate, Isabela Mayor Joselito Malabor, a federalism advocate, also said.

Malabor said he does not see any problem in the Lower House as majority of the congressmen are allied with President Duterte.

But most of the senators “want to retain the old system where members of the Senate are elected at large”, he added.*CPG


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