Tuesday, June 2, 2009


And so it finally happened. The House of Representatives on Tuesday night voted to convene Congress into a constituent assembly (Con-ass) as a vehicle for amending the Constitution. But while many express fears about what may soon happen, particularly about the possibility of term extension for President Arroyo and the calling off of the 2010 elections - which by the way MalacaƱang has repreatedly denied, I don't think this event is enough to pave the way for amending the Constitution as some quarters fear. To be sure, it is a step toward that direction, but one that is fraught with legal, not to mention political, obstacles as to be successful in reaching its destination.

What the House did in passing HR 1109, the resolution convening Congress into a Con-ass, is to merely express its - that of the House alone - desire or decision to amend the Constitution via Congress acting in joint session. Let us not forget that we have a bicameral legislature, which means Congress is composed of the House and the Senate. Except in very limited cases, each body cannot act without the other's concurrence. The amendment of the Constitution is certainly not one of these cases. In other words, the House by itself cannot convene Congress into a joint session, let alone amend the Constitution, unless the Senate agrees. As it now stands, majority of the members of Senate object to the convening of a Con-ass.

HR 1109 can only become an act of Congress once it is transmitted to the Senate and the latter either adopts it or proposes a counterpart resolution. Then again the measure will have to be brought to a bicameral conference committee to smooth out any differences. So, contrary to the views of others that the Cha-cha train has arrived, it still has a long way to go. Given the objection of the Senate this train, as it were, does not have enough steam to reach its final destination.

The only way that HR 1109 could stir a big controversy, which will be the most stupid thing for the House to do, is for the majority to start introducing and deliberating on amendments to the Constitution under the absurd and convoluted view that HR 1109 alone would allow proposal of amendments to or revision of the Constitution under Article 17, Section 1 thereof. This will be a blatant disregard of the bicameral nature of Congress, a principle so elementary in our system of government that for our "esteemed" legislators not to know and to even invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for guidance is an assault on our senses and constitutes intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

Okay, let us assume the majority still has the decency to comply with established parliamentary procedures by transmitting HR 1109 to the Senate for its action. Let us assume further that the Senate agrees to it and so we now have Congress ready to amend the Constitution as a Con-ass or in joint session. The next question is, how will the three-fourths vote to approve any amendment be cast? The House Cha-cha proponents maintain that by joint voting, meaning all the 275 representatives and 23 senators (298) voting together. According to Dean Jorge Bacobo (DJB) of Philippine Commentaries and the Rizalist Press, three-fourths would be 224 rounding up the number. But would there be a difference if the voting were carried out jointly or seprately? I believe there is and a disagreement on the mode might just be a ground for a legal controversy that could bring the Supreme Court in, with due respect to DJB's view in his latest posting on the subject.

I am not certain of the numbers, but for academic purpose, if the voting is carried out jointly the House would be able to, in the words of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, drown the senators in a sea of House votes. In other words the senators would be strategically outvoted every time, assuming only 51 of the representatives will not vote in favor of the majority. Whereas if the voting is done separately the senators' votes become vital for every amendment to be carried out. There would have to be three-fourths votes cast from their ranks each time, in the same manner that the representatives will need to obtain the same number of votes among them. Here lies the crux of the controversy in the event the above-mentioned scenarios take place.

But for now, let us wait and see how our "esteemed" legislators will proceed.

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