Majority floor leader takes over Charter change committee
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas, majority floor leader in the House of Representatives, is set to take over the reins of the committee on constitutional amendments.
Fariñas made this statement in an interview with reporters on Thursday following a spat between Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert “Ace” Barbers and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr., which marred the Charter change committee debate on Wednesday.
He said Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, who chaired yesterday’s debate, had expressed his desire to relinquish the chair at the House constitutional amendments committee and assume the post of deputy majority leader instead.
Fariñas said Mercado opted to choose the deputy majority leader post because it would make him an ex-officio member of all standing and special committees.
“Ganito ang solution niyan. We elected Representative Mercado as deputy majority leader among others and I said, ‘we have formed all the committees. Would you be interested to go to the constitutional amendments?’ And he hesitatingly accepted,” Fariñas said.
“So he went there and later on, sabi niya ‘majority leader, can I just …’ because he has to surrender all other positions like deputy majority leader, which is a plum choice. So if he goes as chair of the constitutional amendments, he will have to lose all his positions (as deputy majority leader),” he added.
Fariñas said it was decided by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that Fariñas as the House whip would then replace Mercado as chair of the House constitutional amendments committee.
The majority floor leader, or the head of those who voted for the Speaker, is crucial in uniting lawmakers for the passage of pertinent legislation.
If Fariñas will be in charge of constitutional amendments, it means he will be handling two House committees. As majority floor leader, Fariñas is the chair of the rules committee, which calendars official business during plenary sessions.
“So nakipag-usap sa akin that he (Mercado) would rather keep the deputy majority position and give up the constitutional amendments. Nag-usap kami ni Speaker and we decided na ako eventually will take over as chair of the constitutional amendments,” Fariñas said.
Fariñas said he was chosen to defend the Charter change proposal on the floor.
“Kasi nga malaking bagay ito para ’pag napag-usapan ’yan, ako na ang magde-defend sa floor, kasi malaki ’yan,” Fariñas said.
For his part, Speaker Alvarez vowed that future hearings in the constitutional amendments committee would no longer be tainted by heated debates.
Wednesday’s committee hearing was cut short as the debate over the mode of Charter change escalated into a word war between Barbers and Pichay.
While a majority of lawmakers are in favor of constituent assembly (Con-ass), some are pushing for constitutional convention (Con-con) as some lawmkers allege that the majority is railroading the Charter change.
“Tingin ko naman wala naman masyadong problema dun kasi kung gusto natin na ma-i-ayos ang pag-re-revise ng Constitution, I think yung Con-ass naman ay bilang isa rin sa mga paraaan paano i-revise ang Constitution, na mismo nakalagay sa ating Saligang Batas, tingin ko naman maayos ung magiging proceedings,” Alvarez said.
During Wednesday’s hearing over 26 bills on Charter change, the lawmakers’ heated debate on the mode of amending the Constitution turned into a spat that almost came to blows.
The conflict started when Pichay opposed a motion of Deputy Speaker Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia recommending the constituent assembly method.
Pichay said the Senate should be invited first, because the 1987 Constitution clearly stated that it was Congress, not just the House of Representatives, which could amend the Charter.
Pichay also said the term “Con-ass” was not in the Constitution, an opinion Barbers criticized as “senseless” and “stupid.”
“The Constitution says Congress upon a vote of three fourths of all its members. Saan nakalagay ang Con-ass?” Pichay said.
“This is a point of order. Let us not be entertaining senseless motions, those are stupid motions. Let’s not pretend to be constitutionalists here,” Barbers retorted.
When the hearing was suspended, Barbers walked to the seat of Pichay on the other end of table and pointed his finger at him.
“P***** i** mo?” Barbers was heard as saying, tapping Pichay on the shoulder.
“Anong problema mo? P***** i** mo rin,” Pichay shot back.
Pichay then stood up and almost grabbed Barbers if not for Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas, who broke up what could have been a nasty scuffle in the middle of a committee hearing.
The two congressmen pointed fingers and glowered at each other before security officers separated them.
Barbers has apologized for the incident but Pichay said he would be filing an ethics complaint, warning of a deep-seated political rift between them that became personal during the debate.
The House is tackling Charter change following a call of President Duterte for Congress to convene in an assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution, particularly changing the form of government from unitary to federal parliamentary.
Under Article 17 of the Constitution, there are three modes of amending the charter.
Under Section 1, one mode of Charter change is through a Con-ass where Congress upon a vote of three votes of its members may propose amendments.
Section 1 also provides for a Con-con where delegates will be elected by the public to propose amendments.
Lastly, under the People’s Initiatives, as stated under Section 2, proposal for constitutional amendments may be instituted by the people “through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein.”
Duterte is set to issue an executive order creating a constitutional commission to aid Congress in crafting a revised Charter./rga
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