Sotto: Wrong for panel to declare it has convened as Con-Ass

Published January 13, 2021, 6:00 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said House constitutional amendments panel chairman and congressman Alfredo Garbin Jr. was “wrong” in declaring that they have already convened a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) in discussing the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III
(Alexis Nuevaespaña/ Senate PRIB / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sotto on Wednesday questioned how some members of the House of Representatives could claim such when the 18th Congress has yet to resume sessions.

“Huh! How? They are yet to convene on Monday the 18th. How can they sit as Con-Ass? Somebody’s got it wrong!” he told the Manila Bulletin in a text message when asked to comment on the development.

“How can you convert into a Constituent Assembly when you have not convened yet in plenary?”

“He is wrong,” he said of Garbin.

According to Sotto, a long-time lawmaker, a resolution should first be passed or adopted in plenary before a Congress body — either the Senate or the House — can convene itself into a Con-Ass. Congressional committees cannot convene a Con-Ass on their own, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also shared this position.

“With all due respect to my good friend Congressman Garbin, Congress is in recess so I’m not sure how there was plenary action on their resolution to form a Constituent Assembly. Our rules only allow committee hearings to take place during the break,” Zubiri said in a separate message to reporters.

During the resumption of the House constitutional amendments committee’s hearing on the proposed amendments of the economic provisions of the Constitution, Garbin said that they are sitting as a Con-Ass whenever they are discussing revisions to the charter.

“When we [deal] with a proposed amendment to the Constitution, we are sitting as a Constituent Assembly. Hindi tayo kailangan magbagong anyo na kung saan iba ‘yong suot natin or magsama-sama tayo,” he said.

“Every time we dealt with a proposing amendments to the Constitution or revising the Constitution, we are sitting as a Constituent Assembly, we are exercising our constituent power apart from our legislative power.”

“Yes, we are sitting as a Constituent Assembly,” Garbin declared.

Supporting this position, panel vice chairman Lorenz Defensor said no formalities are needed to open deliberations on constitutional revisions as a Con-Ass, and that the Senate and House, like legislating laws, could separately approve proposed charter amendments.

Senators have long been rejecting a joint voting on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. This has been one of their major considerations in deciding whether or not to take up Charter change in their chamber.

In a separate press briefing on Wednesday, Sotto said proposals to amend the Constitution’s economic provisions might have a chance in Senate.

The 18th Congress is scheduled to resume sessions on January 18.