PRESIDENTIAL Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, cautioned Congress against using a proposed constitutional convention (con-con) to amend and revise the 1987 Constitution.

At the invitation of Senator Robin Padilla, who chairs the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, the 99-year-old former Senate president attended a hearing that focused on the House-approved resolution proposing the establishment of a con-con for charter change.

“To do a constitutional convention instead of a constituent assembly will be a disservice to the people of this country. It will burden the taxpayers too much… To have a constitutional convention will entail billions of pesos to the work that can be done simply by Congress through con-ass (constituent assembly) form… My God, we are not that rich to be throwing away money for a simple amendment of the Constitution,” said Enrile.

“There is nothing esoteric with these amendments that the experienced legislators cannot do. Bakit nating gagawing con-con ang pag-aamyenda ng ating Saligang Batas kung ang ilalagay lang natin na panibagong dagdag sa ating Constitution ay ‘unless otherwise provided by law’? Hindi ba magagawa, matatalakay ng Kongreso ‘yung clause na ‘yon? Kung ‘di maintindihan ng Kongreso ‘yung ‘unless otherwise provided by law’, eh ano pa ang maiintindihan niyo?” he added.

(Why should we resort to con-con in amending our Constitution when all we need to add to it is the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law”? Can’t Congress discuss that clause? If Congress can’t understand the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law,” what else can you expect them to understand?)

The House of Representatives approved on third and final reading on Tuesday, March 14, the enabling law of a resolution seeking the establishment of a con-con for the amendment or revision of the 1987 Constitution.

According to House Bill No. 7352, the enabling law of Resolution of Both Houses No. 6, Congress will adopt a hybrid con-con where 20 percent of the delegates will be appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, while each legislative district will elect its own representative.

The primary qualification for delegates is that they must be 25 years old, a college graduate and a natural-born Filipino citizen.

Delegates are entitled to P10,000 worth of allowance in each of their actual attendance to the assembly.

House Committee on Constitutional Amendments chairman Rufus Rodriguez said the implementation of con-con could cost up to P9.5 billion.

Enrile expressed full support for Padilla’s resolution to amend the Constitution through a con-ass, stating that his proposal includes the most important steps to make the country progressive and modernized.

Padilla’s proposal seeks to loosen restrictions on certain foreign investor activities, such as exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources, ownership of private lands, the grant of congressional franchises, ownership and operation of public utilities, ownership of educational institutions, and ownership and management of mass media and advertising, which are currently restricted under the 1987 Constitution.

“These economic provisions are perceived to be barriers to trade and investment responsible for the continuous decline of foreign direct investments, and placed the country as one of the most restrictive economies by international standards,” Padilla said.

Padilla’s proposal will tackle provisions in several articles of the Constitution, including Sections 2, 3, 7, 10, and 11 of Article XII; Section 4(2) of Article XIV; and Section 11(1) and (2) of Article XVI.

Enrile also suggested the removal of the nuclear weapons ban imposed by the “Cory administration” during the constitutional amendment process.

“I think in my personal opinion that is the most serious and unwanted provision in the Constitution…In the modern world today, a small country can protect itself against the superpowers if they have nuclear weapons… If we can afford it, we should also have nuclear weapons so our people will not be trampled upon, let alone [be] made a tuta or alipin of other countries,” Enrile said, adding that it can also boost the country’s energy security.

“We need to have an alternative fuel to run our economy because oil and natural gas are finite things. The supply is dwindling and those that were lucky enough to have these raw materials abundantly in their country will make it very difficult to be available to those of us who do not have it,” he said.

Enrile clarified in his opening statement that he attended the hearing in his personal capacity and not as the legal adviser of Marcos. (SunStar Philippines)