Congress vows to ‘work day and night’ as Constituent Assembly

Mara Cepeda
Congress vows to ‘work day and night’ as Constituent Assembly
The deputy speakers say the House of Representatives can its working hours so members can equally focus on legislation and amending the 1987 Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – Three House Deputy Speakers allayed fears that should the 17th Congress convene as a Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution, they will sacrifice the passing of crucial bills.

Deputy House Speakers Raneo Abu, Fredenil Castro, and Miro Quimbo said the members of the House of Representatives can extend their working hours to equally focus on legislation and amending the 1987 Constitution to pave the way for a federal system in the Philippines.  

“The Lower House can play its role as part of the Con-Ass at night. Then in the morning, the Lower House and the Senate can fulfill their obligations as legislators,” Castro said in Filipino during a press conference at the Batasang Pambansa on Wednesday, August 3. 

Castro said that not all bills are immediately due to be discussed by the whole House on the plenary hall floor because the different committees spend some time discussing the different provisions of every bill.

This was echoed by Quimbo, explaining that the House only holds committee meetings and sessions from Mondays to Wednesdays. 

“So it’s really a matter of extending our hours and talking to our districts if we could lessen the presence of the representatives in their areas so they can play their second role that is mandated by the Constitution. This is not new, this is not different,” Quimbo said in Filipino.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in the legislative branch are pushing for a Constituent Assembly, wherein Congress turns itself into a body to make constitutional amendments, to pave the way for federalism.

But some lawmakers and analysts are doubting the competence, time management, and credibility of the 17th Congress to spearhead charter change without putting their self-interests before the people’s welfare. (READ: Con-Con won’t guarantee election of ‘right people’ – Alvarez)

This led House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to recommend that Duterte put up a Constitutional Commission (Con-Com) composed of experts who will draft a Constitution they can recommend to the Constituent Assembly.  

For Abu, the Con-Com can work on the draft while Congress first focuses on reading the bills filed, thus saving time.  

“I can see the idea of our Speaker concerning the Con-Ass that we should also put up a Constitutional Commission so that our scholars and constitutionalist can make the draft that the congressmen can use as bases. This will make the process faster,” Abu said in Filipino.

Lack of quorum? Not a problem

But won’t the perennial problem of the lack of quorum at the House of Representatives get in the way? The Deputy House Speakers said no.

According to Abu and Castro, some lawmakers do not attend plenary sessions because they would rather focus on the paperwork needed to pass bills instead of listening to the privilege speeches being delivered at the sessions, when the House attendance is being recorded. 

“You can see that in the last fews of our budget hearing or when a bill is on 2nd reading or 3rd reading, most of our lawmakers are present,” Castro said in the Filipino.

Abu agreed, saying: “In the plenary, there’s always a lack of quorum. But if you look at the committee hearings, the action is there! The congressmen attend because that’s where the fight is.” 

Abu also said that members of the 17th Congress are “excited” about amending the Constitution and this will be reflected on their work. 

“I think this looming amendment of the Constitution is making everyone excited and interested. You will see their hard work,” he said.

The House of Representatives has recorded a quorum in its first 5 days of session so far. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.