Legal luminaries concur: Congress must vote separately on Cha-cha
Most legal experts, including two former chief justices of the Supreme Court, were in agreement during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that Congress should vote separately when proposing amendments or revisions to the 1987 Constitution.
Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno even warned that a joint voting would destroy the “institutional equality” of the two chambers of Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Puno pointed out that under Section 1 of Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution, Congress may propose any amendments to or revisions upon the vote of three-fourths of all of its members.
The provision, he said, must be interpreted “not in isolation but in conjunction with the other provisions of the Constitution.”
“The interpretation that we should make should be one that will not result in an anomalous situation. One of those anomalous situation would be the cancellation of the institutional participation of the Senate when they turn us mixed as a Constituent Assembly,” Puno said during the hearing of the Senate committees on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, and on electoral reforms and people’s participation.
Puno also noted that during the 1935 Constitution, both chambers of Congress held meetings jointly but voted separately.
Also under the 1973 Constitution when there was a unicameral assembly, he said, there were no provisions for a joint assembly meeting or voting separately.
“Because you don’t have two houses. What is only provided for is the number of the required votes,” Puno explained.
“In other words, when a bicameral Congress convenes as a Con-ass, the intent, the tradition and the practice is to make the two houses vote as separate and independent institutions,” he also said.
Puno pointed out that the Senate and the House are separate institutions and as institutions, they are “equal.”
“We will destroy this institutional equality if we will interpret Article XVII section 1 to mean that the House and the Senate shall vote together and not separately. The numerical superiority of the House will simply overwhelm the Senate,” Puno added.
Another former Chief Justice, Hilario Davide Jr., meanwhile, echoed the position of constitutionalist Father Joaquin Bernas that Congress should vote separately when voting on any amendments to the Charter.
Davide also noted that under the Constitution, Congress may propose amendments upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members or through a Constitutional Convention.
“Note should immediately be taken of the fact that the section does not state when acting as a Constituent Assembly, the Congress should be in a joint or separate session,” he said.
Davide also cited Bernas’ pronouncements and the latter’s book on the 1987 Constitution, which also states that voting should be done separately by the two chambers of Congress.
“It’s submitted that each house may separately formulate amendments by a vote of three-fourths of all its members then pass it onto the other house for a similar process. Disagreements can be settled through a conference committee,” he said, quoting Bernas’ book.
While Congress may decide to come together in joint session, Davide said the Senate and the House must vote separately.
“Since the Constitution is silent about the method…Congress should be free to choose which ever method it prefers,” he said.
“It is also submitted however that what is essential is that both houses vote separately. This is because the power to propose amendments is given not to a unicameral body but to a bicameral body.”
“I fully agree with Father Bernas,” Davide added.
Former Senate President Aqulino “Nene” Pimentel III also believed that while it would be best for Congress to tackle the Charter change issue jointly, he stressed that the voting must be done separately.
“I submit that it would be best if the two houses of Congress should hold their sessions to revise the Constitution jointly but they should vote separately,” Pimentel said in the same hearing.
He noted that the House has more than 250 members while the Senate has only 24 members.
If the voting would be done jointly, Pimentel said, the 24 senators even if they vote as one “would suffer fates worse than those who were swamped by the Fukushima tsunami in Japan some time ago.” /kga
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