‘Break Cha-Cha impasse’
Palace weighs in on House-Senate row
THE Palace said Tuesday that the House and Senate should work out their differences over Charter change, but a co-founder of President Rodrigo Duterte’s party urged the Chief Executive to settle the row between senators and congressmen who are his allies.
Both chambers have been at loggerheads over how to amend the Constitution, with the House, led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, insisting that it can bypass the Senate, approve amendments on its own and go directly to the people.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace would let Congress resolve its issues.
The Congress is independent of the Executive, so we will leave it to them to resolve their disagreements on this issue. The Executive will implement what Congress agrees on,” Roque said in Filipino.
But former Senate president and co-founder of Duterte’s PDP-Laban party, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., said Duterte needs to step in and settle the row between his allies in Congress.
He also took Alvarez to task for suggesting that the Constitution can be amended without the Senate.
I will just say that he should again read the Constitution because that is not what is envisioned in the Constitution.,” said Pimentel, a strong supporter of federalism.
When you talk about Congress as a body to revise the Constitution by three-fourth vote of its members, you are talking about two houses… not the House of Representatives only,” Pimentel added.
Pimentel pointed out that the Constitution mandates that members of both the Senate and the House should propose amendments to the Constitution,
He said voting should be done separately, or “the Senate’s voice would be drowned out by the nearly 300-member House.”
Asked about the House plan to amend the Constitution without the Senate, Roque said Congress should reach a consensus.
From my brief experience in Congress, Congress is not just deliberative, it’s consensual. You need to build consensus and... the same consensus-building will have to be resorted to between the House and the Senate on the issue of how to move forward with constituent assembly,” he said.
The House of Representatives adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 9, seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly in which congressmen and senators will vote jointly on constitutional amendments.
Senators, however, believe that the Senate and the House should vote separately, as joint voting would render their 23 votes insignificant against the 292 votes in the House.
After the Senate said it would boycott the House-initiated assembly, Alvarez declared that the House can go it alone, propose and approve amendments to the Constitution with three-fourths of all lawmakers, and take the results directly to the people in a referendum, a move that has been criticized as unconstitutional.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition, said the House leader’s plan to propose amendments without Senate concurrence would be legally void.
‘‘Any result there will be void. It has no legal effect because it is a blatant violation of the Constitution,” said Lagman at a news conference.
“That also goes [for] the Senate. Their resolution that they should meet separately as a constituent assembly is also against both the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” he added.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also rejected the House’s push for Charter change to effect federalism and urged the House leadership to concentrate instead on bills that would benefit the people.
When the Constitution states that amendments may be approved by three-fourth of all members of Congress, that includes the Senate, Lagman said.
He added that the issue would ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, warned of a constitutional crisis if the House tries to push Charter change without the Senate.
Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, said the House move appeared to be a strategy “to force the issue and have the Supreme Court to 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,” Pangilinan said. “The bullying of the House is an abuse of those in power; we should not let it pass.”
‘‘If the Senate allows itself to be bullied, then our democracy and respect for the law will be thrown out the window and anyone can be a victim of the abuses of those in power,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Charter change cannot be done by the House of Representatives alone because the Constitution vests the decision on Congress, which is composed of the House and the Senate.
‘‘Thus, the House of Representatives alone cannot constitute themselves as a constituent assembly and by its own three fourths vote, cannot amend the Constitution. They cannot do it without the other house which is the Senate,” Drilon said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said “those who insist that the House alone can constitute itself into a constituent assembly do not know what Congress means.”
Lacson then cited Article VI, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states that “the legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
For their own sake, Lacson said congressmen should not allow themselves to look pathetic and worse, ridiculous.
‘‘They pride themselves as lawyers in good standing but it only takes a layman who knows how to read and understand simple words and literature in order to appreciate what is right and wrong,” Lacson said.
Lacson also said that even if the House goes it alone, a budget would have to be set aside for the plebiscite, but this appropriation would not be possible without the Senate.
Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the Supreme Court could ultimately step in to break the impasse over how the two chambers of Congress should vote.
Puno warned that a joint vote would have “an anomalous result” because this would render the Senate irrelevant and said Alvarez’s reading of the Constitution as “literal.”
‘‘That is not the way to interpret the Constitution,” the retired chief justice said.
The group Movement Against Tyranny said Alvarez’s claim that the House could move to amend the Constitution without the Senate was “a new low as far as respect for democratic institutions and process are concerned.”
‘‘The Movement Against Tyranny totally opposes the House leadership’s distorted and undemocratic interpretation of the Constitution and will muster the strongest and broadest opposition to such an insidious ploy. We call on the Senate not to take this lightly and immediately reject the House resolution for a constituent assembly and similar measures to amend or revise the Constitution,” they also said. With Bill Casas and Vito Barcelo