By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz

THE BICAMERAL Philippine Congress must collaborate and align moves on amending the 1987 Constitution to make the process more efficient, an analyst said at the weekend.

Michael Henry LI. Yusingco, a lawyer and constitutionalist, said lawmakers in the upper and lower chambers should work together if they really wish to push through with Charter change or commonly referred to as cha-cha.

“The current disjointed approach will lead them both to the same end, which is a stalemate between the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Mr. Yusingco said via Messenger chat.

Attempts by past Congresses to amend the Constitution have failed.

“The goal for both committees should now be to produce a common draft proposal. Ostensibly, this would entail agreeing on the phrasing of the proposed amendment,” Mr. Yusingco added.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed on 2nd reading a Resolution of Both Houses calling for a hybrid constitutional convention (con-con) to amend the 1987 charter.

On the other hand, Senator Robin C. Padilla, the Senate constitutional amendments committee chair, said a constituent assembly (con-ass) is less costly. The resolution Mr. Padilla filed will be discussed this week.

Mr. Yusingco said that expediting Congress deliberations would make the entire cha-cha process attainable at yearend.

“Certainly, feasible for both chambers of Congress to finalize this amendment proposal before the second State of the Nation Address in July. The plebiscite can even be simultaneously done with the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (in October),” he said.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, chair of the House constitutional amendments committee, said last week that he is open to an active dialogue with the upper chamber.

“Nothing is impossible. We will be able to talk to our counterparts [in the Senate] and I’m sure we are going to reach a consensus on the constitutional convention mode,” he said.

The committees in the lower and upper chambers would have to “collaborate” every time there are changes to the proposed measures before plenary deliberations, Mr. Yusingco said. “Working together on this task as a cohesive unit will be challenging but it will save the reform initiative valuable time.”

In a statement on Sunday, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” F. Villafuerte, Jr. said a constituent assembly may raise previous concerns on whether the chambers should vote jointly or separately on Charter change concerns.

“We will go back to the issue on whether we should vote separately or jointly (in a constituent assembly),” Mr. Villafuerte said in a television interview, referring to a problem in the 18th Congress. 

Mr. Yusingco, who deemed the constituent assembly a more appropriate choice if lawmakers are indeed sincere on focusing on economic amendments to the Charter, said the chambers must vote separately.

“The 1987 Constitution requires that the Senate and the House of Representatives vote separately, and the voting threshold is three-fourths of all its members. Once this is attained, then the next step for both chambers is to set the schedule for a plebiscite where the electorate can either reject or ratify the proposed amendment.”

Mr. Villafuerte asked senators “to have an open heart and mind” for a con-con.

“If they have concerns about the would-be con-con abolishing the Senate … that’s not in the minds of [those among us] who want to reform the Constitution. We will not abolish the Senate. I think that’s the fear [among senators and others who are opposing Charter change,]” he said.

Antonio A. Ligon, a law and business professor at De La Salle University, said a con-con would involve the voice of the public more, given that its delegates will be elected.

“Con-ass will not have the trust and confidence of our people since when you talk of amending the charter, it should be the sovereign will [of the people],” he said in a Viber message.

The House-approved measure calls for a hybrid con-con, wherein the convention will be a combination of delegates elected by the public and appointed by the Senate President and the House Speaker. They will each be given an allowance of P10,000 per day as well as travel and lodging expenses.

Mr. Ligon said the pay rate is too high and must be reassessed.

Regardless of the differing viewpoints of lawmakers on the direction cha-cha is headed, Mr. Ligon called on the public to be “vigilant against any attempt to change the Constitution to suit the self-serving agenda of those in government.”

“Let’s give teeth to the preamble, [which says] ‘We the sovereign Filipino people,’ [who] will be the ones to decide on what course are we going to take in relation to this charter,” Mr. Ligon said.

Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, an opposition lawmaker, said he is against any form of amending the charter because it does not address the public’s immediate needs.

“We must first address all our efforts and resources to solve our present economic woes and current negative economic indicators before we dance the Cha Cha,” Mr. Lagman said in a Viber chat.