Press Release
January 25, 2018

Transcript of Interview of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III

On SP Pimentel and Senate Majority Leader Sotto's meeting with Speaker Alvarez and House Majority Leader Fariñas

SPKP: ... Gain the support from our respective chambers. So rather than fight right now over the mode, we have agreed to defer that divisive topic, and then refocus our energies on the substance.

Q: When you say substance do you mean you will first work on the proposed government structure and other constitutional provisions?

SP: That is correct, on what are these proposed amendments, or the proposed revised new Constitution which we will debate on in the future, including the mode on how to achieve the amendments or the revisions. The debates on the mode will be in the future, but right now, what are we fighting over? There is no substance yet. So we have to now to refocus our energies there, to come up with the substance, the specifics.

Q: We are talking of amendments to the Constitution right? Not complete amendments?

SP: We will not be limiting ourselves. Amendments on the Constitution will be widespread, there are many amendments all over the 1987 Constitution. Actually, we can already see that we are rewriting the Constitution. We did not anymore debate the technical meaning of amendment versus revision, our agreement is that let us not shift our focus on the substance.

For example, if the House will come up with a revision and the Senate will come up with one-sentence amendment, then we now start debating the procedure. But we are not even on that stage, as to what are these proposals. We have nothing. Our energies are better put to use by focusing on the substance.

Q: Were there specific revisions or proposals or priority provisions that were discussed?

SP: Among the four of us, informally we talked about the system of government, and in passing we talked about the economic provisions. So everything people are now talking about, we talked about during the dinner. But of course, no agreement, that was just an exchange of ideas.

Q: The House speaker first wanted the referendum in time for the barangay elections this May. There is this also this idea of a plebiscite floated for next year. Was there a timing for the charter change - for the constituent assembly - that was agreed upon?

SP: Talking about the timetable is pointless when we don't have substance. We have decided to shift our focus, and use our energies to come up with substantive points and after that we determine what else to do. But the better thing to do now is to come up with the specifics, the substance.

Q: Are other senators sold on the idea of a constituent assembly? Are you still constitutional convention?

SP: I will leave for the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes to determine, as to the pulse of the senators, because the resolution of the Senate performing its Constituent Assembly is already pending with the said committee, and the resolution for the Senate to consider calling for a constitutional convention is also pending in that committee. So let us await the report of the committee, since it will now start hearing all of these referrals given to it.

Q: So what is the direction of the Senate and the House? Is there a particular battle cry for Congress?

SP: There is no particular battle cry, but I will urge my colleagues and our friends - especially our partymates - in the House to continue our study of the 1987 Constitution, and for those of us advocating for federalism, to brush and to deepen our understanding of the concept so we can help explain the concept. I urge all my fellow senators and lawmakers to deepen our understanding of the proposal that we hear, especially federalism, so that we can help explain it not only to our fellow lawmakers, but to the people in general.

Q: What specific provisions would you want changed?

SP : The separation of powers also, the system of government. Number one, the system of government to adopt federal form, meaning to say that we clarify now the powers of national government, and now we strengthen local government by also clarifying the powers at least up to the regional level. The sharing of the resources will be very clear in the Constitution, the extent of powers and jurisdiction of each level will also be very clear in the Constitution. And then in the separation of powers, I want us to borrow some concepts in parliamentary systems so that the government which we will now call the administration, which we will now call the government of the day, it will now be more responsive to the needs of the people, and it will be more accountable to the people. If we borrow some parliamentary concepts like dissolution of parliament, like for parliament to also determine the executive branch, these are nice concepts which will lead to more accountability of the administration of or the government of the day.

Q: What about the economic provisions? Secretary Pernia said he wants to allow foreign investments in media companies. Do you agree?

SP: That's a very specific proposal. The specific proposal that we are open to is to make us more flexible in determining the extent of foreign ownership in different aspects of the Philippine economy by not fixing the percentages in the Constitution, but by delegating the power to determine the percentages to the national congress. That is, for PDP-Laban, that is the most that we can agree to. So, if there is something wrong with fixing it in the Constitution now, because it is so difficult to change the percentages, then we are willing that we will make our Constitution and our institutions more flexible by delegating this to congress. As to specific percentages, let it be the future congresses to determine this by law.

Q: Any contentious proposals that you see right now?

SP: Everything is contentious because there are fellow lawmakers and of course some segments of our society which believe that the 1987 Constitution is the best in the world and therefore should not be changed. The mere fact of changing a comma, or adding one sentence or one phrase is already contentious with them. Everything is contentious actually especially when we are looking at a revision, not simple amendments, but we are going to change the structure of the government, we are going to change the separation of powers and borrow some parliamentary concepts, but the objections can be overcome. It's just a matter of explaining to the people that we are doing this to benefit the country. Number one, to save money by streamlining some processes, number two, by equalizing development all over the country by sharing powers and resources, and number three, making the government, the administration more accountable because of the adoption of some parliamentary concepts. All of these things, we are doing for the good of the country. It is just a matter of time and then proper explanation to the people. We are confident that we will be able to convince at least a majority of the Filipino people in the plebiscite to be called for the changes, to approve the changes.

Q: Was there any agreement that there will be no rushing the change in the Constitution?

SP: Rushing is really a matter of point of view. The better thing to do is refocus our energies, come up with specifics. Okay, if it is going to be a revision, then we need time. Let us say a revision gets the support in both Houses, then we will now propose this to the people. We need a lot of time to explain because there will be a lot of changes, so a plebiscite in May 2019 would sound practical, because it will be together with the already scheduled 2019 midterm elections so that will save us a little money. But let us say the substance, the proposed amendment is just one sentence or one paragraph, and this is the only amendment which can pass through the Senate and the House and this is the only amendment which will be sent to the people, yes, maybe we can spend more, P8 billion more, and schedule the plebiscite even before May 2019. We can do it November 2018, December 2018, we can do it as soon as we are ready. It really depends on the scenario or on the situation of each specific amendment and/or amendments which we will now present to the people. It depends on the scenario which I cannot answer right now.

Q: Do you have a date for both Houses to come up with specific proposals?

SP: We did not agree on a date but we will agree to keep on meeting. I want to tell our people that the Senate leadership and the House leadership has always been meeting specially when we are rating and monitoring the progress of the bills. So when we continue with our regular periodic meetings, we will now add as one of the topics to discuss, the status of the efforts to review the 1987 Constitution. We will continue with our regular and periodic meetings with the House.

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