By Ben Rosario
Even without Senate’s participation, the task of approving a federal constitution can be successfully delivered by the mere concurrence of just 236 out of the estimated 260 members of the supermajority bloc in the House of Representatives.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez hinted that the Lower House can do Charter revision alone but is convinced congressmen should be given ample leeway to be able to concentrate on deliberations and one way of granting such flexibility is to cancel next year’s mid-term elections.
In a radio interview, Alvarez underscored the significance of addressing time constraints that could derail President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to put in place a federal system of government via Charter revision.
Himself a strong advocate of federalism, Alvarez stressed that postponing the May 2019 elections is the “most practical of doing it.”
He is convinced that all it will take is for at least 236 legislators or three fourths of Congress members, with Senate and Lower House voting as one body, to support the federal Constitution when the two chambers convene into a constituent assembly.
Based on Alvarez’s contention, 236 or three fourths of the total 315 Congress members, 23 senators and 292 congressmen, may pass new or amended provisions of a Constitution.
Alvarez is leader of 260 congressmen who voted him to become speaker. The remainder of the House membership is divided among the minority bloc headed by Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez; the Makabayan bloc and the Liberal Party-backed Magnificent Seven.
“It would be better if the Senate and the House can agree on this matter. But if not, I hope this would not happen, we can simply proceed with the task of deliberating on the draft through a constituent assembly (con-ass), get the required three-fourths vote and then we submit it to the people for ratification through a referendum,” Alvarez said.
The Speaker explained that the 1987 Constitution does not “actually require” the two legislative chambers to convene into a constituent assembly to propose changes.
He stressed that the only requirement is for 3/4 of all members of Congress, without specifically requiring separate voting, to propose and vote to approve the changes.
“We must have focus to allow extensive debate and deliberations and ensure that we would have a good draft of the proposed new Constitution,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez noted that based on the legislative calendar, it would be “extremely difficult” to hold adequate deliberations on the draft Federal Charter submitted by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) if the 2019 polls will push through.
Alvarez said after President Rodrigo Duterte’s 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA), Congress has to begin deliberations on the proposed 2019 budget.
By October, lawmakers who are seeking another term, will have to file their certificates of candidacy.
Two months later, Congress will have its Christmas break, with sessions resuming by the third week of January, or just a month before the start of the campaign period.
These factors, according to Alvarez, will make it hard for the House to achieve a quorum to deliberate on the proposed Federal Charter.
People’s Initiative for poll postponement
Alvarez said that while the Constitution mandates the conduct of the elections every three years, there are also ways to postpone the 2019 mid-term elections either through legislation or an amendment of the Constitution through People’s Initiative (PI).
He said if the Senate would not agree to the postponement of the 2019 elections, citizens supporting federalism can initiate a PI to amend the constitutional provision requiring elections every three years.
“That can be done; we have already studied that alternative,” Alvarez said.
With the elections postponed, Alvarez said Congress can buckle down to the work of finalizing the draft of the proposed federal charter.
He estimated that Congress will need at least six to eight months to deliberate and act on proposals for the Federal Constitution.
Another six months will be needed for an extensive information dissemination before the charter revision can be presented for ratification in a plebiscite.