Ex-CJ Puno: 'Cheap argument' to hold con-ass to save costs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippinesm January 17) — Pursuing charter change by convening Congress as a constituent assembly (con-ass) instead of holding a constitutional convention (con-con) to save on costs is a "cheap argument," former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said Wednesday.

Puno voiced his support for amending the 1987 Constitution through a con-con during a joint hearing of the Senate committees on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, and electoral reforms and people's participation on proposals for charter change.

"The oft-quoted justification for con-ass is that it is cheaper than a con-con. To me that is a cheap argument. We should not count the cost when writing the Constitution. A good constitution is the best investment a people can make," he stressed.

Puno expressed "misgivings" about a con-ass since the country has never had experience with it, and it may affect the work of legislators whose priority should be to pass laws.

"Given the need for Congress to act on so many important bills pending consideration, I believe it should not be saddled with the more difficult job of rewriting the Constitution," he said.

The former Chief Justice, who is being eyed by President Rodrigo Duterte to be part of a 25-man team to study and review the Constitution, pushed for a "hybrid" con-con for charter change.

Under his proposal, a "hybrid" convention would be composed of elected and appointed delegates.

The elected delegates, Puno said, must be chosen because of their platform and expertise while the appointed delegates should come from various disciplines such as political science, law and public administration.

"The constitutional convention must be non-partisan in character, and political parties will be banned from putting up candidates," Puno added.

For his part, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. acknowledged that holding a con-con would be "quite expensive" compared to a con-ass.

To ensure transparency in con-ass proceedings, Pimentel – an advocate for a shift to federalism – said the public must also participate actively.

"Actively, by attending – and inputting their views into the public hearings – that the appropriate committees of both Houses of Congress would be conducting," he explained.

Should lawmakers decide to pursue charter change through a con-ass, Puno said voting must be done separately by the Senate and House of Representatives.

"They have difference in perspectives and these perspectives are to be reflected institutionally: the House as one institution and the Senate as another institution," he said, noting that senators will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of House members.

Pimentel said joint sessions must be held on the proposed amendments jointly but voting should be done separately.

"By holding their sessions jointly, the members of the two houses of Congress are enabled to exchange views directly and perhaps, to resolve differences more immediately that what would otherwise be the case," he said.