By Mario B. Casayuran and Ellson A. Qujismorio
Senators assailed Tuesday the position of House of Representatives leaders that they can convene a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) by themselves – without the Senate – to amend or revise the Constitution.
“For their own sake, they should not allow themselves to look pathetic and worse, ridiculous,” Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said.
“They should read the 1987 Constitution in its entirety, or at the very least, Article XVII, Sec. 1 (Amendments or Revisions) in relation to Art. VI, Sec. 1 (Legislative Department) that explicitly refers to ‘the Congress’ as the Senate and the House of Representatives,” he said
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said Charter change (Cha-Cha) cannot be done by the House of Representatives alone.
Drilon, a former secretary of justice, said the Constitution provides that Congress, upon a vote of three fourths of all its members, may amend the Constitution. But the Constitution, he added, “is crystal clear with regard to the composition of Congress. Under Article VI, Section 1, ‘Congress of the Philippines’ shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives,” he said.
Thus, the House of Representatives alone cannot constitute themselves as a Con-Ass and, by its own three-fourths vote, amend the Constitution. They cannot do it without the other house which is the Senate, he stressed.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said the House will propose amendments on its own and have these submitted directly to the people in a referendum.Alvarez said the House does not need the Senate to amend the Constitution.
“We are already starting,” Alvarez said, adding that the House has already begun amending the Constitution at the committee level.
Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said he expects the holding of a caucus among House members to act on the proposal to convene a Con-Ass with or without the Senate’s participation.
If the Senate does not decide in the next two weeks whether or not to join the Con-Ass, he said, the House will proceed with amending the Constitution.
Lacson stressed that interpreting “the Congress” as referring to one chamber only is, at best, self-serving.
“They can propose amendments or revision all they want but, at the end of the day, a plebiscite would necessitate an item in the General Appropriations Act (GAA or national budget) to be appropriated for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct such plebiscite,” he said. “Without the Senate, how can such appropriation materialize?” he asked.
To Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party (LP), the strategy seems to be for the House of Representatives to force the issue and have the Supreme Court step in and decide in their favor.
“The administration has bullied the political opposition, its critics, the chief justice, the media, selected business interests, and now it wants to bully the Senate,” he said. “The bullying is an abuse of those in power, we should not let it pass.”
Solo acts void – Lagman
In the House, veteran lawmaker Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said the impending solo acts of the House of Representatives and Senate to propose changes to the Constitution would be legally void.
“Any result there will be void. It has no legal effect because it is a blatant violation of the Constitution,” he said.
“The Senate resolution that they should meet separately as Con-Ass is also against both the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” he added.
“I would like to reiterate that ‘the Congress’ means the House and the Senate meeting as a Constituent Assembly,” he said.
“Congress and Senate will have to meet together. There can be no separate shadow-boxing from the House and another by the Senate. They have to meet in tandem.”
Lagman said only the SC can decide on the matter, being the final arbiter.
“Speaker Alvarez can’t say that he is correct, Senator Lacson can’t say that he iscorrect.Ultimately, I think the case should be raised to the Supreme Court to solve the issue. This is not a political question but a matter of complying with the mandate of the Constitution. This is a constitutional question,” he said.