SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday said the House of Representatives would no longer seek to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly but propose amendments on its own and have these submitted directly to the people in a referendum.Alvarez again said the House does not need the Senate to amend the Constitution.
“What assembly? Where is it in the Constitution? We are already starting,” Alvarez told reporters at a news conference, saying that the House had already begun amending the Charter at the committee level.
The House committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, divided his panel into four subcommittees to work on the proposed amendments.
Alvarez, principal author of House Concurrent Resolution 9, said the House would no longer take the constituent assembly route to effect the shift to federalism. He said having authored the concurrent resolution could have been a “mistake.”
The Senate had earlier said it would boycott the House-initiated assembly because it would have congressmen and senators vote jointly, rather than separately, on constitutional amendments. The 23 senators oppose joint voting because they would be overwhelmed by the 292 House members.
But Alvarez said Monday the House would merely propose amendments to the Charter and have them approved by three-fourths vote of all members of Congress—or 237 lawmakers—and have them submitted to the Commission on Elections for a referendum or plebiscite.
Alvarez said he expects a plebiscite to be held on May 14, simultaneous with the barangay elections, or on May 13, 2019, in time for the midterm elections.
Because the House can muster 237 member of Congress, Charter change will push through even without the Senate, Alvarez said.
He said the Constitution does not specify that Congress needs to convene to amend the Constitution, and does not spell out the need for a constituent assembly.
“There was no need to convene [the House and the Senate]. Where does it say in the Constitution that we need to convene?” said Alvarez.
Despite his latest maneuvers, Alvarez said the House was not railroading Charter change to shift to a federal form of government.
He said while the original target was to submit a proposed constitution to the people in time with the Alvarez on Monday clarified that the House of Representatives was railroading Charter change for a shift to a federal form of government.
Alvarez said anti-federalism forces are trying to present a complicated interpretation of the Charter change provision of the Constitution.
Alvarez said the House and the Senate could conduct their sessions separately and vote separately on ordinary legislation but amendments to the Charter did not require separate voting.
He said as long as the three-fourths vote requirement is met, amendments can be considered and adopted, even without the participation of the Senate.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Monday conceded that efforts to convince the senators to support the proposed shift to a federal form of government have been derailed due to question on how Congress should vote on any amendments or revisions to the 1987 Constitution.
But Pimentel said he is not giving up hope on senators who were turned off by the House insistence on joint voting.
He also said not all senators are amenable to federalism.
He said he was still trying to win them over, but these efforts were derailed by the focus on procedure.
“Many were turned off with the procedure. But I’m not losing hope,” Pimentel said.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri warned of a possible “legislative stalemate” if the senators and congressmen would not stop the word war over Charter change.
He remembered that former House speaker Jose de Venecia also pushed for Charter change, which resulted in lengthy debates.
“This is what will happen, even our legislative agenda may suffer,” he said. “When there is a legislative stalemate, who will suffer? The Filipino people.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the goals of federalism can still be met without the need to spend much time and resources to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution, if his Budget Reform Advocacy for Village Empowerment bill is passed into law.
Lacson said the BRAVE bill, which is similar to federalism as it empowers local government units by giving them funding for their development projects, even gained the support of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.
The BRAVE bill, one of the first proposed measures Lacson filed in 2016, is pending at the committee level. It aims to give local government units meaningful autonomy to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities.
It also seeks to end the culture of mendicancy and political patronage, and in turn, help the country realize the elusive inclusive growth.
Lacson said that when he first presented the details of his bill to Evasco, a former mayor of Maribojoc in Bohol, Evasco said President Rodrigo Duterte might even forget federalism because BRAVE can meet his goals of ending the “dole-out mentality.”