By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE SENATE president pro tempore on Wednesday warned that the priority agenda to revise or amend the Constitution is “dead,” based on the testimonies of legal experts, including two retired chief justices, who attended that day’s hearing by the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes.
“Based on what I heard today, Cha-cha is dead in the Senate,” Senate president pro tempore Ralph G. Recto said at the hearing. “Clearly, we cannot do it in 10 session weeks, not to mention that there will be the possibility that the Senate will have to be an impeachment court once again, not to mention we have to pass other laws as senators, as members of Congress.”
There was also the constitutional question of whether the two chambers of Congress should vote separately (the Senate’s stand) or jointly (the stand of the House of Representatives). Not a few senators have warned that the Senate will not act on charter change if the House insists on its stand.
Former justices and legal experts invited to the hearing, some of them framers of the 1987 Constitution, also agreed that the best method to revise or amend the Constitution was through constitutional convention, instead of the more preferred constituent assembly among lawmakers.
“Should the amendment or revision regarding federalism and others be proposed by a constitutional commission or by the Congress itself as a constituent assembly? My answer is it should be by constitutional convention,” former justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. said.
Former chief justice Reynato S. Puno said he had “misgivings” about the constituent assembly mode, citing the many legislative priorities on the plate of Congress.
He added that the justification on preferred constituent assembly as being cheaper than constitutional convention was “a cheap argument.”
“We should not count cost when writing the Constitution. Good Constitution is the best investment a people can make,” Mr. Puno said.
However, former senate president Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. pointed out that while constitutional convention was the best mode to revise the Constitution, it was realistically “quite expensive” to accomplish.
“The more important thing that we, as a people, should consider doing, if the Constitution is being revised via a constituent assembly, is for us to participate in the process proactively, actively, and decisively,” Mr. Pimentel said.
Mr. Pimentel also said there was a need to revise the Constitution if the government intends to adopt a federal type of government wherein power is divided or shared between the central government and the local state governments.
On the other hand, former chief justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. and former constitutional commissioner Edmundo G. Garcia opposed the revision of the Constitution.
For his part, former associate justice Adolfo S. Azcuna recommended the “more doable” option of amending certain areas of the Constitution first especially on economic provisions, before revising or overhauling the legal document.
“Should you amend or revise the Constitution? Yes, because it’s already 30 years. But amend it first, do not revise it. Revision is such a big word. You have many things to do,” Mr. Azcuna said.
Mr. Davide also rejected federalism, slamming the proposal as a “lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death” and even a “leap to hell.”
“What our country and our people need today is not a change of the Constitution by adapting the federal system. What are needed are, first, authentic and genuine change in the hearts and minds and values of our leaders to the end that they be truly genuine, authentic public servants or servant-leaders,” he said.
In case constituent assembly is chosen, the legal experts concurred that the House of Representatives and the Senate should vote separately in a constituent assembly.
“When the bicameral convenes as constituent assembly, the intent, the tradition and the practice is to make both houses vote separately as independent institutions,” Mr. Puno said.
According to Article 17 of the 1987 Constitution, any amendment or revision to the Constitution may be proposed by calling for the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, into a constituent assembly, by calling for a constitutional convention or by forming a peoples’ initiative.
The House on Tuesday adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 9 to constitute both chambers of Congress into a constituent assembly to amend or revise the Constitution.
Members of the House of Representatives are pushing for charter change to pave way for President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to shift the government system into federalism.
For his part, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said that senators during a Tuesday caucus unanimously maintained their stand that they should vote separately. “Yesterday, we have a caucus of the entire Senate. And the unanimous vote, no dissent, is that we should vote separately,” he said in an interview with reporters.
This consensus was also confirmed by both Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III and Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente C. Sotto when sought for comment.
“The clear consensus in the informal caucus is that all senators believe that voting should be separately,” Mr. Pimentel said.
“The discussion yesterday was that if the House of Representatives would force a constituent assembly voting jointly, expect the Senate to not cooperate,” Mr. Sotto said.
Mr. Drilon also cited Senator Panfilo M. Lacson’s suggestion that any senator who would attend the joint constituent assembly be moved for expulsion, this in response to congressmen considering their constituent assembly to be a joint session even if one or two senators appear.
In an interview with reporters, Mr. Lacson said, “I told them that so our discussion is clear. Maybe we could agree to expel any member who would attend in that kind of arrangement without the benefit of a resolution adopted by the body.”
At the hearing, Mr. Drilon asked Mr. Puno if the Supreme Court could compel the Senate if the latter would not act on the House resolution that would convene Congress into a constituent assembly.
“The Supreme Court still does not have jurisdiction to accommodate and decide questions that are political in character. The issue that we are talking about is a political question,” Mr. Puno replied.
Mr. Drilon then asked the former chief justice what would happen if the Supreme Court could not intervene.
“The resolution is lost and you cannot be subject to a writ of mandamus,” Mr. Puno said.
Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, who heads the Senate committee, said for his part: “During the hearing, it was discussed that this should not be hurried, This should not be railroaded. We cannot exclude the public. That is what the committee is trying to accomplish which is to have a meticulous discussion on the proposals so it would not be hasty nor forced.”