Cha-cha hits snag; SC ruling needed
With the Senate and the House of Representatives not budging from their conflicting stands on how to vote in a constitutional assembly (Con-ass), Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday they believed the proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution for a shift to federalism was dead.
“Yes Cha-cha is dead,” Drilon said in a text message, using the shorthand for “Charter change,” which means amending the Constitution.
“Nothing will move forward,” Lacson said, also by text. “Unless we all yield to the intent and spirit of the 1987 Constitution, Cha-cha will not happen.”
But for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, all is not lost. He said the disagreement between the two chambers of Congress should be taken to the Supreme Court for resolution.
Lacson filed a resolution on Monday calling on the Senate to sit as a Con-ass and introduce amendments to the Constitution, with the proposed changes to be approved by three-fourths vote of the chamber.
On Tuesday, the House adopted a resolution convening Congress into a Con-ass for the amendment of the Constitution, with all its members approving proposed changes by three-fourths vote.
The Senate has always rejected joint voting, as the senators are outnumbered by the representatives.
On Wednesday, the senators decided to ignore the House Con-ass, with Lacson suggesting expulsion for those who would break ranks.
Amendment by separate Con-asses is an original proposal by Drilon based on the reading of the constitutional provision on amendment that Congress is a two-chamber body.
It works like ordinary legislation, with senators and representatives separately proposing amendments and separately voting to approve the proposed changes.
Conflicting amendments are to be reconciled in conference then submitted to the people for approval in a national plebiscite.
The 1987 Constitution does not expressly say whether the Senate and the House should vote jointly or separately in proposing amendments to the Charter.
Former Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr. and Reynato Puno, speaking as resource persons in a Senate committee hearing on proposals to amend the Constitution, both said the Constitution intended for separate voting, as Congress is a bicameral body.
“We will destroy institutional equality (of the Senate and the House) if we interpret Article 17 (of the 1987 Constitution) to mean that the Senate and the House shall vote together and not separately,” Puno told the hearing.
“That’s their right, and that’s their view,” Alvarez said in a radio interview on Thursday, referring to the Senate’s interpretation of the amendment provision.
“But we have a different view because the letter of our Constitution is clear. It is stated there that Congress by a vote of three-fourths of all its members may amend or revise the Constitution,” Alvarez said.
“So for me, that provision is quite clear and there is no room for interpretation,” he added.
Alvarez also suggested that the 292-member House could go it alone, if worse comes to worst. A three-fourths vote in the House, even without the senators, could still satisfy the three-fourths vote of Congress, considering the disparity in numbers.
“Yes, at the end of it, that [House vote] will satisfy the requirement in the Constitution, which says three-fourths of all its members. Let us count all the members, get the three-fourths, and vote . . . for us, the constitutional requirement is complied with,” Alvarez said.
Told about Davide and Puno’s statements to the Senate hearing on Wednesday, Alvarez said those were the two former Chief Justices’ opinion.
“That’s their opinion, but they are not the Supreme Court. Let us wait for what the Supreme Court will say on this issue,” Alvarez said.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri called on the Senate and the House on Thursday to hold a legislative summit to talk things through and end the bickering, a proposal that Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III supported.
“Summit or talks, whatever you call it, we need to talk,” Pimentel said in a text message.
Rendering Senate irrelevant
In his text message, Lacson said he heard what Alvarez had said in his interviews and that “it only confirms our suspicion that they interpret Article 17, Section 1 (of the Constitution) to mean rendering the Senate vote irrelevant in a Con-ass contrary to the interpretation of all the senators as well as constitutional experts and legal luminaries, including our resource persons [in Wednesday’s] committee hearing.”
“It also justifies my suggestion to expel any member of the Senate who will go astray and betray the institution where he belongs,” Lacson said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto frowned on the House bid to exercise the three-fourths vote on proposed amendments to the Constitution without the Senate.
“The three-fourths voting formula, to be exercised by one chamber alone, is the wrong calculus. The Constitution speaks of a bicameral legislature,” Recto said in a statement on Thursday.
“[I]t takes two to Cha-cha. Going solo is shadow dancing,” he said.
“If two bodies are needed to pass a bill changing the name of a barangay, then how can one House arrogate upon itself the far more important job of changing the basic law of the land?” he asked.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws, said the House “should think twice about forcing the issue and proceeding with Cha-cha even without the concurrence of the Senate.”
“I doubt if our people will simply stand and watch while the Constitution is being desecrated and torn to bits by self-serving politicians,” Pangilinan said in a text message.
Hearings to proceed
Pangilinan said he would proceed with the committee hearings on proposals to amend the Constitution “so that these and other issues are ventilated and made known to the public in an open and transparent, participatory and deliberative process.”
At a news forum in the Senate, Zubiri urged the House to “tone down the rhetoric,” saying the representatives’ talk of abolishing the Senate under a new form of government that would be created after the amendment of the Constitution would not help their cause for Charter revision.
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