Minority slams majority railroad of Charter change
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has denounced the move of the majority bloc in the House of Representatives installing majority floor leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas as chair of the committee tackling Charter change.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Lagman said Fariñas was installed as the new chairperson of the constitutional amendments committee in a bid to railroad the bills calling for a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to propose changes to the 1987 Constitution.
Lagman said Fariñas took over the reins of the committee chairpersonship as a result of the near fistfight between Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert “Ace” Barbers at the height of a heated debate over Charter change.
The committee chairperson, Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, asked for the post to be relinquished after the incident.
“House committee chairpersons must be wary of majority floor leader Rodolfo Fariñas’ presiding over committee meetings if chairpersons fail to fast-track the supermajority’s agenda. The decision of the majority floor leader to preside over the subsequent meetings of the committee on constitutional amendments was an offshoot of the near fistfight between two members after chairman Roger Mercado allowed a free debate on the differing methods of effecting amendments to the Constitution,” Lagman said.
He said according to House rules, it should be the vice chairperson who should take over after the chairperson steps down. The majority floor leader, who is also the head of the powerful rules committee that calendars the agenda on the plenary, is an ex-officio member.
Lagman said Fariñas’ takeover was part of a grand scheme of railroading the bills, an aftermath of the heated debate in the previous hearing over the mode of Charter change—con-ass or constitutional convention (Con-con).
Asked if Fariñas was appointed to railroad the Charter change bills, Lagman said: “I think that’s the purpose.”
He said to be fair to Mercado, the chairperson allowed a debate over the mode of Charter change, although it spiralled out of control due to some solons’ opposition to Con-ass.
“Mercado allowed a free debate on what particular mode of effecting amendment … The actuations of chairman Mercado should be recognized that he was willing to let the members of the committee and other members of the House participate in the free discussion. Walang railroading,” Lagman said.
He said there was no need for railroading because as traditionally done, bills were approved based on the “numerical ascendancy of the super majority.”
Lagman said Fariñas’ chairpersonship of the constitutional amendments committee put a “Damocles’ sword” over other chairpersons who would open the committee deliberations into a free-flowing debate instead of railroading the majority’s pet bills.
“There are chairpersons who would like to have a free interchange in their committees, they don’t want to railroad the super majority’s agenda. So this will be a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the chairpersons. And I don’t think it should be encouraged. There should be always a free debate in the plenary, as well as the committee,” Lagman said.
In an earlier interview, Fariñas said he was designated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to take over the Charter change committee in a bid to fast track deliberations on an important piece of legislation under this administration.
The post of majority floor leader, or the head of those who voted for the Speaker, as the House whip is crucial in uniting lawmakers for the passage of pertinent legislation.
Fariñas is set to take over in the aftermath of a heated committee debate last week that was cut short after Pichay and Barbers cursed at each other and almost got into a brawl. The conflict may have stemmed from a deeper political rift between the two congressmen.
The House is tackling Charter change following a call of President Rodrigo 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.
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