By Ben Rosario
Bringing the legal issues of Charter change to the Supreme Court can be an inevitable consequence of the continued bickering between leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate, a House official has revealed.
Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said opposition congressmen may also be expected to join the legal fray before the SC as they continue to build a case against House Concurrent Resolution No. 09.
The three opposition blocs in the Lower House have decried the alleged railroading of HCR 09 which will serve as the basis for the convening of Senate and the Lower Chamber into a constituent assembly (con-ass) for the purpose of amending the 1987 Constitution.
“If you ask me, amendments of provisions of the 1987 Constitution can be approved with three fourths vote of the con-ass. But the question would be, will it be credible,” said Castro, a former law professor.
“It will be questionable. So if that is the case, I would rather refer the matter to the SC in a litigation so that everything will be cleared,” he said.
However, Castro said that while the Lower House’s stand that con-ass voting among senators and congressmen should not be separate, there can be legal issues to be raised if the former will totally not participate in the proceedings and deliberations for Charter amendments.
Earlier, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez declared that the Lower House can do it alone in con-ass, with or without the participation of the Senate.
Senators, on the other hand, have reportedly agreed to snub the House-initiated con-ass as they continue to hold on to the opinion that voting in all charter amendments should be separate.
Armed with HCR 09, the House committee on constitutional revision has started to lay the groundwork for the con-ass proceedings which is expected to be launched before the end of January.
However, leaders of three opposition camps found the alleged railroading of HCR 09 as a common ground that would bind them against convening the con-ass.
Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza joined the Makabayan and the Magnificent Seven opposition blocs in assailing the alleged shortcuts taken by the House leaders in order to approve HCR 09.
This, notwithstanding the insistence of Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas that the resolution underwent the full legislative processes for the passage of a resolution or a bill, including the conduct of public hearings on the various proposals submitted by congressmen.
“It is a product of democratic and exhaustive debates not just in the plenary hall of the HOR, in the several committee meetings conducted by the committee on constitutional amendments, but also in nationwide public consultations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” said Fariñas.
“In a chamber composed of almost 300 members, why limit the interpellations to three and two on such a crucial matter as amendments to the Constitution? That’s ridiculous and very undemocratic. Each member should be allowed ample time to raise questions,” Atienza said.
On a viva voce vote, the Lower House adopted HCR 09 on Tuesday after Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc stopped Casilao from finishing the last 15 minutes of the one-hour allotment for his interpellation of Mercado, chairman of the constitutional amendment panel and principal sponsor of the resolution.
“It was clearly railroaded. If the House leadership is really sincere and respected the deliberative character of Congress, it should have allowed all those who wish or listed to
interpellate to finish,” Anakpawis and Makabayan Rep. Ariel Casilao said.
At least eight more congressmen were lined up to interpellate Mercado and none was given a chance to pursue it.
On Monday, Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House committee on constitutional revision, told a press conference that four more interpellators, including Casilao, were scheduled to discuss HCR 09 on the floor, adding that voting will be held as soon as the plenary process is completed.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, a member of the Liberal Party allied with Magnificent Seven, insisted that HCR 09 should have undergone third and final reading and that a nominal voting should be conducted.
There were more than a dozen House members who want to interpellate the sponsor,” said Villarin, who was among the lawmakers who were denied a chance to interpellate Mercado.
In a press statement, Fariñas dismissed as “false, unfounded and unfair to the HOR” the claim of the Makabayan group that the adoption was railroaded
“HCR No. 09 has been exhaustively discussed in the plenary. The House members decided it was time to vote on it after hearing the discussions and debates on the measure,” said Farinas.
He also pointed out that the majority followed Section 54 of the House rules that provides that “a motion to close the debate on a measure shall be in order after three speeches in favor and two against, or after only one speech in favor and non against.”
“The clamor for Charter change had long been there. It is time we seriously consider it for the benefit of our country and people,” the House official stated.