Manila: The senate started focusing on charter change a day after the lower house of Congress approved the convening of senators and congressmen into a constituent assembly, start amending the 1987 Constitution, and pave the way for President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for a shift from a presidential to a federal form of government for nationwide development, sources said.

“The senate hearings will resolve issues such as the need to amend the Constitution; identify provisions that need amendment; find out if Charter change should be done by a constituent assembly of senators and congressman or by elected delegates of a constitutional convention,”

Senator Francis Pangilinan told Gulf News on Wednesday. “We will decide if senators and congressmen vote jointly or separately on proposed Charter change,” he added,

Since the proposed Charter change, in general, would mean devolving power monopolised by the national government to federal states (or regions). The Senate wants extra measure to prevent and not augment the age-old proliferation of political dynasties in provinces and regions, said Pangilinan.

Opposition senators have also expressed fears that embarking on Charter change in early 2018 might mean no midterm election in 2019; extension of Duterte’s term beyond 2022; and abolition of the vice president’s office which is now led by opposition Leni Robredo, said Pangilinan.

The emerging differences of the two houses of Congress on Charter change could mean more delays in convening a unilateral body to do it by January 2018; and finalising the amendment process by end of 2018, a political analyst said.

On Tuesday night (January 16), the lower house voted by voice Resolution Number Nine which called on more than 20 senators and more than 200 congressmen to convene a constituent assembly for Charter change, said Congressman Roger Mercado, head of House committee on constitutional amendments.

“A constituent assembly is the most expeditious, more open, and least expensive way to undertake Charter change,” said Mercado, adding it would cost P204 million (Dh17 million), while the option to elect delegates of constitutional convention would cost P11 billion (Dh916.6 million).

The lower house resolution also said members of the constituent assembly should vote jointly on proposed Charter amendments, said Mercado. The upper and lower houses of Congress used to approve and amend laws separately and then iron out their differences in a bicameral process.

The Senate is against joint voting because its vote will become a minority, said Pangilian. But the Constitution states that “any amendment to, or revision of the constitution should be approved by three-fourths of members of Congress (when it becomes one body),” explained Mercado.

Approval from the Senate is needed for the house resolution to take effect, explained Deputy House Speaker Raneo Abu

On proposed amendments, Abu said the president would remain as head of state, and the Prime Minister, a new entity, would serve as head of government. Mercado’s committee has established a list of other provisions that must be amended.

“Reforms are needed for the Constitution to be relevant. Federalism is a long-term solution to the decades-old conflict between Filipino-Muslims and Christian Filipinos in Mindanao, southern Philippines” said Jonathan Malaya, executive director of Federalism Institute.

Federalism can boost economic regional developments and make Metro Manila not the only centre of economic boom, Duterte has said.

The Constitution also allows amendment by people’s initiative — proposed amendments would need the signature of 12 per cent of registered voters in the Philippines