Charter change headed for deadlock

 

By Elcid Benedicto

 

A deadlock or a stalemate is the likely status of Charter change (Cha-cha) in Congress as both the Senate and the House of Representatives have taken a strong stance on the manner of voting on the proposed amendments and mode of amending the 1987 Constitution.

 

Senators, both those from the opposition and aligned with the administration bloc in the upper chamber, hold the view that their conflicting views in interpreting the provision in the Constitution on whether they should vote jointly with the lower house or separately, in approving amendments sitting as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), cannot be even questioned in the Supreme Court.

 

This was ably supported by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, acceding to Senate Minority Franklin Drilon’s assertion that Chacha is a political exercise and is beyond the jurisdiction of the high tribunal.

 

“We must not forget that while the SC is supreme in interpreting the Constitution, we are co-equal branch. We have our own powers. We have our own interpretation,” Drilon said, adding that the process of amending the Constitution is a political question and such power is explicitly lodged with Congress.

 

Thus, the high court cannot compel Congress to vote jointly or separately as the decision is left to the discretion of the legislature being the branch of government tasked to amend the Constitution.

 

Conass vs. Concon

 

The House of Representatives, last Jan. 16, adopted Concurrent Resolution No. 9 which seeks to convene Congress into a Con-Ass to begin amendments in the 1987 Constitution and shift to federal system of government.

 

While the Senate has opted to hold committee hearings as there has already been pending bills and resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) to carry out Cha-cha.

 

Last Monday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson nudged Con-Ass but specified the exclusion of the lower house, saying that it’s only the Senate that will convene as a Con-Ass and merge with the other chamber to thresh out whatever differences that they may have in the provisions called to be amended.

 

Such position by the senators, interpreting provision on voting separate from the lower house, was supported by the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

 

In the hearing called by the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., former SC Chief Justices Puno and Hilario Davide Jr. and former SC Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna agreed on the issue of the two houses voting separately.

 

Davide, Pimentel and Azcuna were members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the existing Charter.

 

“Kung ipipilit nilang mag Con-Ass na voting jointly, wala silang aasahan na makikisamang miyembro ng Senado,” Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said, adding that a position was taken during an all-senators’ caucus that they will not agree to such set-up with the lower house.

 

“Ngayon kung voting separately aba, ibang usapan yun, then we can sit down and talk about it,” he said.

 

The only way out of the mess, the majority leader said, is to iron out the differences themselves.

 

“Siguro a meeting or a caucus with the House leaders pwedeng pag usapan yun. I will leave it to the Senate president (Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III) to talk to the leaders of the (lower) house,” he said.

 

“What I can see now is perhaps the leadership of both Houses should sit down and discuss it,” Sen. Sotto said.

 

 

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