Thursday, December 11, 2008


The saying "desperate men make desperate moves" is a fitting description of House administration party members in their hurried attempt to force a Charter change before 2010 via a constituent assembly.

As everybody knows by now, KAMPI solons - led by its leader in the House Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte - are trying to generate the magic 196 votes in support of their resolution that will convene Congress into a constituent assembly. This is based on their distorted view that one of the allowable modes of amending the Constitution, which is upon a three-fourths vote of all the members of Congress, could only be done in a constituent assembly with both houses of Congress voting jointly. Under this view 196 would be three fourths of both the Senate and House membership.

The clear intent of this is to outvote the Senate by, in the words of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, drowning it in a sea of House votes. By insisting on a constituent assembly (which is aptly abbreviated as "con-ass" - translated as conning of the Senate and the people by ass#&?% ! . . . you know what I mean) the pro-cha-cha solons are paving the way for a joint session by both houses of Congress and, consequently, joint voting where the Senate will likely lose.

The Senate, of course, will not take things sitting down. Whether you call it ego, institutional pride, or adherance to the rule of law, this time the Senate is well within its right to assert its constitutional authority as participant to a Charter change in passing a unanimous resolution rejecting the House's con-ass caper.

In their desperate quest for a Charter change, administration lawmakers have made a serious miscalculation and grave misreading of constitutional procedures. The ridiculous attempt to ease out the Senate in the decision to convene Congress into a constituent assembly is not only bad for the Senate's pride, it is also a flagrant disregard of the manner by which a bicameral Congress goes about its business.

I find it hard to understand how the House could possibly convene both houses of Congress into a constituent assembly by simply circulating a resolution from its members and obtaining 196 votes or more. Whether this effort will include signatures from sympathetic senators is an assault on understanding simply because a House resolution is a House resolution, that must go through its own channels in the Lower House.

The plan to outvote the Senate in a joint voting scheme will only be possible if the latter is willing to come and join the House in a joint session. For this to happen, someone in the Senate must file a resolution for this purpose or adopt the House's resolution, which will be debated and voted upon by the Senate's whole membership. As it is, the Senate had already formally expressed its unwillingness to convene with the House in joint session.

For a better understanding of the constitutional mechanisms involved, the Constitution provides that it can only be amended by either (1) Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members or (2) a constitutional convention. It is entirely within the discretion of Congress as to what mode to adopt. If it choses a constitutional convention it must pass a law to this effect. If it choses to propose the changes by itself, which is the first mode, the three-fourth vote is required to carry the changes.

The debate now is how will the first mode be carried out. According to Congressman Villafuerte Congress must convene into a constituent assembly. But there is another question to this: how will Congress convene into a constituent assembly? The congressman answers this by filing a resolution to be supported by atleast three-fourths of all the members of both the House and Senate. Take note that this resolution is only for the purpose of convening Congress into a constituent assembly and is not about the actual consideration of amendments yet. As already discussed, this proposition is ridiculous and disregards established legislative procedures.

In addition to what has already been mentioned, the three-fourths vote has nothing to do with the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly as nowhere is this provided in the Constitution. What the Constitution clearly states is that proposed amendments to or revisions of the the Constitution must be approved upon a vote of three-fourths of all the members of Congress, should Congress undertake the job of proposing the amendments or revisions. The three-fourths vote has nothing to do with the decision to have Congress propose the amendments, but with the voting on the actual amendments or revisions.

As cited in my previous posting, Father Bernas opined that under the first mode of introducing charter change Congress can simply do it in the same fashion it does in enacting ordinary laws, consistent with its bicameral nature. In other words a congressman or senator can simply file a bill proposing amendments to the Constitution, the same will be debated and voted upon in the chamber where it was filed, then if approved will be transmitted to the other chamber for similar consideration. The only difference in this process is that the measure must be approved upon a vote of three-fourths of each chamber's members.

Father Bernas also stated that unlike under the 1935 Constitution Congress is now not required to be in joint session. It is, therefore, entirely up to Congress if it wants to convene jointly or not, but in either case the voting on any amendment will still have to be done separately by each house. Now if the Lower House wants to convene jointly, as is the case right now with its persistent push for a constituent assembly, all it must do is adopt a resolution to this effect in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, then transmit it to the Senate for its consideration and approval.

How the House - the KAMPI members in particular - hopes to accomplish the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly is beyond understanding. Now that the Senate has unequivocally spoken it would be the height of folly to force its hand into a joint assembly by pretending to enact a measure by itself as an act of Congress. By any stretch of the imagination, an act of one house alone cannot be the act of a bicameral Congress.

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