The marathon sessions that started Monday came to a swift end when the majority voted to adopt House Resolution 1450 (see the revised version, renamed House Resolution 197, below), which calls for the convening of Congress to propose amendments to or revision of the 1987 Constitution. The debates and the period of interpellation lasted for about 10 hours.
Members of the opposition described the entire procedure as “unconstitutional, patently illegal, and immoral.”
“We can either go to court or we can say (the Constituent Assembly) is a sham and not participate at all,” Taguig Rep. Alan Cayetano said in an television interview this morning.
Senate President Manuel Villar also said that the Senate is determined to block the Lower House in convening Congress into a constituent assembly. Villar said they will bring the case before the Supreme Court. The Senate yesterday also adopted a resolution reiterating their stand that the Lower House could not proceed with the Constituent Assembly without the institutional participation of the Senate.
On Monday, the Senate committee on constitutional amendments will be holding its own sessions and it will be inviting people who would like to express their sentiments over the “railroading” of the process of amending the Charter. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives on Tuesday will be holding a “joint assembly” to start the process of proposing amendments.
Majority member Luis Villafuerte, who co-sponsored the resolution, said the Lower House will be sending invitations to the senators to join the assembly. “But if the senators would decide not to join, then they’re waving their right to participate.”
Last night, the minority bloc tried but failed to block the move of administration allies to approve HR 1450 through a simple vote of the majority. Opposition lawmakers insisted that the resolution should be approved by three-fourths vote of all members of the two chambers of Congress.
Even Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin of the majority said that a three-fourths vote, regardless of which chamber, was needed to approve the resolution.
Assistant Majority Leader Edcel Lagman however insisted that HR 1450 only needed a simple majority vote since it is only a measure calling for the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly. The three-fourths vote, he explained, is only needed for the actual approval of amendments.
Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero argued that Section 104 of House Rule 15 clearly states that any proposed constitutional amendments must have the support of three-fourths of all members of Congress. But Lagman said it is Section 105 and not Section 104 which applies to the issue.
Last Tuesday, the majority bloc, by a vote of 161-25, managed to amend Section 105 of House Rule 15, allowing the Lower House to propose constitutional changes without the concurrence of the Senate.
In the new rule, the sentence directing the House to follow the procedure for the enactment of bills in the adoption of resolutions proposing amendments to the Constitution was deleted. Under the Constitution and rules, a normal legislative process requires the participation of the Senate.
HR 1450 reportedly has been signed by 173 congressmen or three-fourths of 230-member House. But critics say the majority wanted to do away with the three-fourths vote last night because they did not have enough number of votes. The House Journal reported that 189 lawmakers were present last night. It is estimated that 25 members of the opposition attended; this brings the number of the majority down to 164.
The debates last night also centered on “still unclear” constitutional amendments that the majority bloc wanted. When grilled about important issues (e.g. term limits, separation of powers, etc.) surrounding Charter change, Villafuerte for the most part remained evasive and maintained that some matters could be better discussed in a constituent assembly.
The Camarines Sur lawmaker also denied the existence of a technical working group that drafted the “simplified version” of the proposed amendments. Reports said the group was organized with representatives from the administration-backed political parties led by Constantino Jaraula as chair. Other members are Prospero Pichay Jr. and Simeon Datumanong of Lakas-CMD, Luis Villafuerte (Kampi), Gilberto Teodoro Jr. (Nationalist People’s Coalition), Laurence Wacnang (Atienza wing of the Liberal Party), Crispin Remulla (Nacionalista Party), and Ernesto Pablo (APEC party-list group).
Escudero also raised the issue of the majority’s plan to postpone the May 2007 elections to November. Should this happen, Villlafuerte said the term of the incumbent officials will be extended for another six months. He further explained that the terms of the those who will be winning on November will also be cut short by six months as their terms will expire on June 30, 2010.
But in a television interview this morning, Villafuerte admitted that it is still “unsure” if the 64 third-termers in the current Congress will be given a chance to run in the November elections. Critics say it is this set of lawmakers who will benefit the most from Charter change. (See related post: House Cha-cha moves: A case of conflict of interest?)
The period of interpellation also included questions on the rules and procedures which will be governing the Constituent Assembly. San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, for instance, said it worries him that there are yet no specific rules that will guide the Lower House in conducting the assembly. “We are developing a culture of legislative cutting corners,” Zamora said, “Let us do the right thing. I will not disagree on the point that we need to amend the Constitution. But I disagree that we should do it tonight, next week, or any time soon.”
Partido Manggagawa party-list Rep. Renato Magtubo zeroed in on the fundamental basis of HR 1450 which acknowledged the “growing clamor from various sectors of our society to amend or revise the Constitution.” He repeatedly asked Villafuerte for proofs of the supposed “clamor,” arguing that as far as his constituents (workers) are concerned, what they want are decent jobs and a wage increase.
In reply, Villafuerte said charter change is being pushed by groups like the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines which gathered 12 million signatures for its so-called “people’s initiative,” but which the Supreme Court struck down for being void and unconstitutional as it “miserably failed to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution for conducting a people’s initiative.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) meanwhile maintains that a constitutional convention is still the best way to amend the Charter. The CBCP branded the incident last Tuesday as “scandalously immoral,” “self-serving,” and “fraudulently illegitimate.”
Below is latest version of House Resolution 1450 (renamed House Resolution 197):
Republic of the Philippines
Congress of the Philippines
Quezon City, Metro Manila
Third Regular Session
Begun and held in Metro Manila, Monday, the twenty-fourth day of July, two thousand six.
RESOLUTION NO. 197
RESOLUTION CALLING ALL MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO PROPOSE AMENDMENTS TO, OR REVISION OF, THE CONSTITUTION PURSUANT TO SECTION 1, ARTICLE 17 OF THE CONSTITUTION AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
WHEREAS, there is a growing clamor from various sectors of our society to amend or revise the Constitution;
WHEREAS, it is imperative that any proposal to amend or revise any provision of the Constitution shall adhere to the express provision of the Constitution as provided by Section 1, Article 17 of the Constitution;
WHEREAS, Section 1, Sub-paragraph 1 of Article 17 of the Constitution provides that: “Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.”
WHEREAS, while there are alternate modes of effecting charter change, adopting the afore-cited Constitutional provision quoted in the immediately preceding paragraph hereof is the mode recommended by an overwhelming majority of the Members of Congress;
WHEREAS, in order to ensure that proposals to amend or revise the Constitution could be considered by Congress in an orderly and practical manner, a call for ALL THE MEMBERS of Congress to propose amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution shall be made, as this resolution proposes. Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, as it is hereby resolved by the House of Representatives, TO CALL ALL MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, PURSUANT TO SECTION 1, SUBPARAGRAPH 1 OF ARTICLE XVII OF THE CONSTITUTION TO PROPOSE AMENDMENTS TO OR REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION AT THE PLENARY HALL OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, BATASAN COMPLEX, QUEZON CITY BEGINNING AT 10 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING OF DECEMBER 12, 2006 UNTIL THE APPROVAL OF THE PARTICULAR AMENDMENTS OR REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION FOR SUBMISSION TO THE PEOPLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF RATIFICATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 4, ARTICLE XVII OF THE CONSTITUTION.
Jose de Venecia Jr.
This Resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives on December 7, 2006.
Roberto P. Nazareno