Senate, House leaders end word war on charter change
MANILA, Philippines — The leaders of both chambers of Congress have agreed to end their word war and meet behind closed doors to talk over their differences in tackling charter change (cha-cha), Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Monday.
In a media briefing, Zubiri said he was able to speak with Speaker Martin Romualdez on Sunday after Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. appealed to his fellow lawmakers to “observe parliamentary courtesy” in discussing issues surrounding efforts to revise the 1987 Constitution.
The Senate President had traded barbs with Romualdez and other House members after he voiced suspicions that the delay in the full implementation of three laws intended to entice foreign investments was due to charter change.
“We heed the call of … Barzaga for a ceasefire …, calling instead for the leadership of both houses of Congress to hold a caucus, where we can have a productive discussion on the matter rather than have everyone airing their grievances in public,” Zubiri told reporters.
The Senate leader said he asked Sen. Robinhood Padilla, chair of the chamber’s constitutional amendments and revision of codes committee, to call off his invitation for members of the House of Representatives to attend his committee’s hearing on Monday as resource persons.
He said the face-off of representatives seeking to tinker with the Constitution and the senators opposing such efforts would have resulted in a heated exchange among the legislators.
The Senate, he pointed out, only invites House members as guests, not as resource persons, who may be subjected to grilling by senators.
As a neophyte senator, Zubiri said Padilla was apparently unaware of the “traditions and practices” of the two chambers of Congress.
“This tradition,” according to Zubiri, “is to protect him and his committee as well, as we want to avoid a scenario in which conflicting opinions and heated arguments may take place, putting the chairperson in a bind, particularly on how to rule on such discussions.”
‘Keep an open mind’
Zubiri also clarified Romualdez’s statement claiming that Zubiri was now amenable to modifying the Constitution’s economic provisions.
In a statement late Sunday night, Romualdez said he had spoken with the Senate president and briefly discussed constitutional reforms.
“[Zubiri] personally assured me that he will keep an open mind on the move by the House of Representatives to institute economic reforms through constitutional amendments,” Romualdez said.
According to the Speaker, Zubiri had informed him that the Senate was awaiting the report of its panel on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, chaired by Padilla, “for appropriate plenary action.”
But Zubiri said he was only “open to meeting with the leaders of the House of Representatives on this issue and having a thorough discussion about it.” Padilla, for his part, said he was actually looking forward to engaging his fellow charter change movers from the House in a spirited debate on the suggested modes in altering the 36-year-old Constitution.
The senator had openly rejected the proposal of the House to hold a constitutional convention to pursue charter change, saying his colleagues would only join their efforts through a constituent assembly.
He said that he had to defer his invitation for the House contingent, led by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, to appear at the hearing after Zubiri phoned him.
In a statement, Rodriguez said, “I am disappointed.”