Gomez asks: Is Senate afraid of Cha-cha because terms may be cut short?
MANILA, Philippines — Are senators not eager to talk about charter change because their terms may be amended and cut short?
This was the question posed by Leyte 4th District Rep. Richard Gomez — an ardent supporter of charter change — as to why such proposals are not gaining traction in the Senate despite getting overwhelming support in the House of Representatives.
Gomez, in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart on Tuesday, said these questions should be answered when the two congressional chambers meet.
“The factor really is on the part of the Senate […] I think what’s important is we have to ask the Senate what are their fears. Why don’t they want to work on this?” he asked in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Everyone’s affected by lack of jobs, lack of opportunities, why do they fear this? Maybe if you ask me what their fears are — since I myself can’t grasp it — may be because they are afraid that talks would eventually lead to cutting short the term of the senators, from six years going down to four years, maybe that’s it,” he suggested.
According to Gomez, there might also be fears that amending the 1987 Constitution might ultimately lead to the dissolution of the Senate — if the new constitution uses a parliamentary form of government, then Congress would be unicameral or a singular body.
Hence, the lawmaker said this is another reason why a constituent assembly, not a constitutional convention, should be used, with the House and the Senate voting separately on these concerns.
“Or, if talks arrive at political amendments, maybe there would be concerns about senators being dissolved. They would be relegated to just regional senators only. Or, if there’s a change in government, if we go for a parliamentary system, they would be dissolved, and we would all be congressmen. Maybe, I think these are the questions that the Senate will have to answer,” Gomez said.
“Actually, most people fear that talks may lead to term extensions. But that’s why it’s important […] that the House and Senate talk. There should be House rules to continue pushing for constitutional amendments. Number one, let the House come up with its own version. Second, I personally agree that the House and Senate vote separately,” he added.
Under the House-proposed hybrid constitutional convention, an election would be held to form the delegation, with some of the members being appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President to balance the possibility of political clans winning in the polls.
But if a constituent assembly is adopted, it would mean that incumbent lawmakers would sit as the delegates tasked with changing parts of the constitution. While this would be less costly, there are discussions as to whether the Senate and the House should vote separately, since there are only 24 senators compared to over 300 House members.
Regardless of each chamber’s proposal, Gomez said that the important thing for the Senate and the House is to sit down and talk so that they can craft their own versions and deliberate it eventually in a bicameral conference committee.
These were the same sentiments by Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. LRay Villafuerte, who noted that Congress can use the break for charter change talks.
Congress adjourned its session last March 22 for the Holy Week and will resume session on May 8.
“What is important now is that the House and the Senate need to talk, because on the part of the House, 301 voted — overwhelmingly — for RBH 6, for Con-con. Now it’s time for the Senate to sit down, talk about it, you know, you cannot just disregard our mother law, it is the biggest law in the land, we cannot snub it,” he said.
“If the Senate will come out with their version saying they want a Con-ass (constituent assembly), then let them go into a bicam committee, and from that bicam, they will come out with a resolution whether it could be con-con (constitutional convention) or con-ass. Because the talks are very, very important at this point in time,” he added.