House panel leaves out political dynasty ban in cha-cha move

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 13) — The government body pushing for amendments to the Constitution is urging Congress to pass its proposed political and electoral reforms, including the ban on political dynasties.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Constitutional Reform (Task Force CORE) in a statement on Friday welcomed the House committee on constitutional amendments' swift approval of a resolution seeking to amend the Constitution. The body, however, said the anti-political dynasty provision and other political and electoral reforms were left out.

“We hope that Congress can adopt this difficult but necessary political reforms that we have been waiting for in a very long time. We now have this opportunity to implement long-lasting reforms that will have a profound impact on the life of our nation. We must not let this opportunity pass,” Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said. The Department of the Interior and Local Government heads the inter-agency task force.

Under the proposal that the task force earlier submitted to the House, the anti-political dynasty provision from the 1987 Constitution should be self-executory.

"The definition is already in the Constitution. Basically this refers to spouse and relatives up to second degree of consanguinity or affinity. That includes legitimate, illegitimate, half blood, full blood relations," Ramon Casiple, one of the members of Task Force CORE, said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

READ: Senate urged to start public hearings on constitutional reforms

Although the Constitution prohibits political dynasties, no law has been passed to enforce it, even after three decades. Critics said it's because many lawmakers themselves come from political dynasties.

Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution states, "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law."

What the House panel passed

A closed-door executive session on Wednesday approved a still unnumbered resolution of both houses. It seeks a five-year term for all lawmakers and local government officials (except barangay or village officials). They can serve for up to three consecutive terms.

Once passed, the proposed measure will extend the terms of members of the House of Representatives and local executives — who are currently entitled to a three-year term under the Constitution. Meanwhile, it will reduce senators’ terms from six years to five years.

The resolution also wants to increase the number of senators from 24 to 27 – three each from the following regions: Metro Manila, Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

It wants the Presidential and Vice Presidential bets to be voted in tandem.

Finally, the House resolution seeks to relax restrictions on foreign ownership, allowing them to own more than 40 percent of businesses and land in the country.

What else was left out?

The task force said constitutional amendments "must come with political reforms otherwise we continue to perpetuate our weak political party system that is prone to abuse and elite capture."

"We urgently need to shift from elections based on personalities to one based on political parties with distinctive policies and programs and this is a concrete way to make that happen,” Malaya said.

The task force wants to strengthen the political party system through provisions setting up campaign funds and prohibiting political turncoatism. Under its proposal, the Commission on Elections will manage a democracy fund for the parties, while Congress could also approve of a political party development fund coming from government money. Moreover, members of a political party would not be allowed to jump ship one year before and one year after the elections.

The task force also wants to give additional funding to local government units and create a Regional Development Authority to make sure the country's regions have the capacity to govern their own affairs.

Malaya earlier said these are all "intermediate steps towards a federal system of government," acknowledging that a complete shift to federalism can no longer be achieved under President Rodrigo Duterte's term, which ends 2022. The government eyes a 2021 plebiscite, where Filipinos can vote for or against the constitutional amendments.

READ:Duterte to keep hands off Cha-Cha resolution

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola and Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.