Separate votes

The crescendo of complaints and criticisms against the House-initiated revision of the Constitution under a constituent assembly continues to rise. Lending his voice to the current controversy over Con-ass AND parliamentary/federalism form of government was former senator Juan Ponce Enrile. As a resource person at Monday’s Samahang Plaridel breakfast news forum, Enrile made it clear at the outset that even if the Senate and House went into joint session, voting must be done separately. No ifs and buts.

“The legislative power in our country is vested in a bicameral Congress composed of two houses--the Senate and the House of Representatives. Neither the Senate nor the House is a Congress. Both the Senate and the House are essential to exist and operate as a Congress. Both must operate and act separately even if they are brought together in a joint session,” said Enrile.

One has to take the word of the man as teaching from a guru. Enrile at 93 is gifted with a sharp mind and uncanny memory. Steeped in the law, he has a grasp of both versions of the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions. He has seen it all aside from being in the vortex of major political events in this country. Enrile was the architect and implementor of martial law as defense and justice secretary during the Marcos regime. His last landmark role was as Senate president and presiding judge in the impeachment trial and conviction of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Thrust into the limelight once again because of the various divergent views whether the Senate and the House should vote separately on the issue of a revised Constitution, Enrile ‘s legal opinion is timely and considered by his peers as the word coming from the mountaintop. And why not—when the others are being expressed by legal pygmies?

As someone once asked “how can you soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys?”

We are not talking about House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez here who’s bent on running the cha-cha train with or without the Senate. He has also backtracked on his threat of a zero budget for the Senate and local governments who oppose the proposed parliamentary/federalism in the revised charter.

“I was only joking when I said that.” said Alvarez when he drew sharp rebuke from all quarters. Rep. Tom Villarin said it’s not a laughing matter when the supposed leader of the House would joke about a serious subject that would adversely affect public works project for constituents.

Enrile cautioned the proponents of Con-ass resulting in a flawed charter revision that “revolution is intrinsic in every society and the people will do the change they cannot get from elected leaders.”

The Senate, however, has seen through Alvarez’s ploy to abolish the Senate by merging it under a parliamentary setup where the 24 senators’ power would be clipped by the sheer number of nearly 300 other MPs aligned with the ruling party.

As members of parliament, the outnumbered former senators will be emasculated when voting is held on the floor to pass key legislative measures.

Former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was the other guest at the Manila Hotel news forum. He and Enrile were on the same page on most of the issues discussed except on federalism which has long been the advocacy of Pimentel.  Although he conceded federalism is not a panacea to all the ills confronting the country, Pimentel believed that his proposal would free the other regions from the grip of “imperial Manila.” He said that to devolve the revenue-earning of local governments from being remitted to the national treasury, a more equitable way of revenue sharing is for the LGUs to retain a certain portion of the funds for their own development.

Enrile, on the other hand, warned that federalism might become messy as it could lead to warlordism. Provinces and regions would compete against each other. There’s really nothing wrong with competition but provinces and regions with smaller revenue could be dominated by neighboring areas with a higher income coming from mining, logging and agriculture.

Pimentel suggested that the president and vice president must be elected together as a tandem team and not separately. This he said would preclude the Vice President from just waiting for the President to die so he or she can take over. He also urged the people to vote for political candidates with a literacy requisite and not just to know how to read and write.

Topics: Con-ass , Federalism
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