Speaker Prospero Nograles Monday proposed a ?fourth mode? in amending the Constitution, causing confusion among opposition lawmakers at the start of debates on Charter change (Cha-cha) in the House of Representatives.
Nograles said his ?innovative? approach would treat his House Bill No. 737 as an ordinary legislation in which the House and the Senate vote separately on its merits.
A three-fourths vote of each chamber is needed to pass the measure, he said. By contrast, bills ordinarily need a simple majority of the members of each chamber to be enacted.
Nograles said he took this approach to personally ?safeguard? his bill, which seeks to amend the Constitution?s economic revisions, from being used for other goals, such as extending the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Nograles said he expected his proposed mode to be questioned in the Supreme Court.
The Speaker?s ?fourth mode? is different from the proposal of the group of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte that wants a constituent assembly (Con-ass) convened for Charter change in which both chambers of Congress would vote as one body, and not separately.
The other modes of amending the Constitution are the people?s initiative and the constitutional convention whose delegates are elected.
At a loss
Lawmakers belonging to the minority were at a loss over the real motive behind HB 737. They feared that the bill was just a vehicle for the Con-ass being pushed by Villafuerte.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casińo said that because the House had decided to take up Cha-cha it was already exercising its constituent powers and ?therefore would have automatically transformed itself into a Con-ass to amend the Constitution.?
Deputy Minority Leader Roilo Golez asked the majority lawmakers at the start of the session at 5 p.m. whether they intended to seek a plenary vote on HB 737, with the House immediately convening itself into a constituent assembly.
But Majority Leader Arthur Defensor tried to allay the minority?s fears by declaring that the leadership had no intention to ask for a vote to amend the Constitution.
He said the Nograles bill would be deliberated on as an ordinary bill and would be submitted to the Senate for approval.
Defensor said amendments unrelated to the subject of HB 737 would not be entertained. ?There can be amendments on the terminology and form, but not an entirely new amendment different from the subject of the bill,? he said.
The bill seeks to amend Sections 2 and 3 of Article 12 of the Constitution to give foreigners rights enjoyed by Filipinos such as owning land or public utilities.
Only economic provisions
Nograles assured the public that he would ensure that only the economic provisions would be tackled in the discussions on his bill.
?It is illegal, unconstitutional to use my resolution and inject political amendments. I am a lawyer [and] I will tell you it cannot be done. No amount of votes can make something illegal legal,? the Speaker said.
Like Defensor, Nograles said the House had no plans to bypass the Senate in convening Con-ass.
Nograles and Defensor said that while they favored using the Con-ass mode to achieve the changes sought by HB 737, this would still be subject to the interpretation of the Supreme Court.
?We know how to do a constitutional convention and the people?s initiative, but we do not know how to do the constituent mode,? the Speaker said.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros Baraquel said Nograles? proposal effectively created a fourth Cha-cha mode that was not allowed under the Constitution.
?If it is not a Con-con, not a people?s initiative and not a Con-ass, then it is a constitutional abnormality. It would be tantamount to creating a constitutional abomination,? said Hontiveros.
She said there was a clear distinction between the legislative powers of Congress and its constitutional powers. ?To blur this distinction is already in itself a constitutional violation,? Hontiveros said.