MANILA, Philippines — House political leaders said they have agreed that they will only touch economic provisions in the Constitution, despite political observers saying that tinkering with the fundamental law opens it to all possible amendments and revisions, including those that may benefit lawmakers.

“To ensure that the purposes for which the initiative to amend the Constitution will be timely accomplished, there is a united consensus that the House of Representatives will deliberate only on the economic provisions,” they said in a manifesto released to the media on Thursday.

Constitutional law professor Tony La Viña and political science professor Jean Franco previously told that any changes can be made to the Constitution once it is opened up for amendments or revisions.

“Nobody can limit whatever changes people can propose,” La Viña then said.

READ: The process of charter change, explained

Backing Cha-cha

The manifesto, signed by eight lawmakers representing different political parties and blocs in the House, claimed that a majority in the House of Representatives support Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s renewed push to amend so-called “restrictive” economic provisions in the Constitution.

“Now is the most opportune time to resume the deliberation on the amendments to the economic provisions … for the primary purpose of mitigating and providing lasting solutions to the devastating economic effects brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the political leaders said.

They also agreed that the House and the Senate will vote separately on proposed amendments to the Constitution, a view that some House members, including Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, do not share.

They also agreed to the timeline set by Velasco, who wants the proposed amendments to the Constitution ready for ratification in a plebiscite held alongside the national elections in May 2022.

Majority Leader Martin Romualdez (Leyte) signed the manifesto on behalf of Lakas-NUCD, while Senior Deputy Speaker Salvador Leachon represented the ruling PDP-Laban in the manifesto.

Rep. Michael John Duavit (Rizal) signed for the Nationalist People’s Coalition, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao del Norte) for the Nacionalista Party, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. (Cavite) for the National Unity Party, Rep. Isidro Ungab (Davao City) for Hugpong ng Pagbabago, Deputy Speaker Michael Romero (1-PACMAN party-list) for the Party-List Coalition Foundation Inc., and Rep. Rommel Rico Angara (Aurora) for independent lawmakers.

Already a con-ass?

House political leaders did not say in the resolution whether they share the view of Rep. Alfredo Garbin (AKO BICOL party-list), who chairs the House constitutional amendments committee, that his panel already constitutes a constituent assembly (con-ass), even without the participation of the rest of the House and the Senate.

This has been challenged by La Viña, who told that both houses of Congress must first pass a resolution calling for it to convene into a con-ass, which is one of three ways to amend the Constitution.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri also countered Garbin, pointing out in separate statements that Congress is still on a break so there could not have been plenary action on forming a con-ass.

“Let us forgive them,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in Filipino. “They do not know what they are doing.”

But despite criticism, Garbin stood by his interpretation of the Constitution, telling CNN Philippines’ “The Source” on Thursday that the Charter does not provide for Congress to organize itself as a con-ass.

“Once Congress initiates procedure to propose amendments to the Constitution through Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution it is deemed to have entered into the exercise of its constituent powers,” he said.

Garbin’s committee restarted deliberations on Velasco’s proposal, or Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, on Wednesday. The debates were off to a rough start, with lawmakers raising questions on how Congress would proceed with Charter change.

Velasco’s proposal seeks to allow Congress to lift the constitutional restrictions on foreign investments in land, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, media and advertising.

He wants this done by inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the provisions, which would give Congress the leeway to pass laws to change the constitutional requirements.

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