Con-Ass pushing through with or without Senate – Alvarez

Bea Cupin

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Con-Ass pushing through with or without Senate – Alvarez

Alecs Ongcal

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insists on his interpretation of the Constitution, even if it differs from that of his colleagues in the Senate and the framers of the 1987 Charter

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Thursday, January 18, that the House of Representatives will convene itself into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) even without the presence of senators.

Alvarez made the assertion during a Thursday morning radio interview with broadcaster Ted Failon, who repeatedly asked the Speaker about his plans for the Con-Ass, after senators stood pat  on their decision against a joint voting on Charter change. 

Asked if he would call on senators to join the House, Alvarez said: “We will first meet, hear. Now, the senators are welcome to go there and join us. If they don’t want to go, we will not force them.” 

Failon asked Alvarez if this meant that the House will convene as a Con-Ass,  even without the presence of senators. Alvarez replied: “Opo, ang dulo kasi nito ay isa-satisfy namin kung ano yung requirement ng ating Saligang Batas. Sinasabi niyan three-fourths of all its members, bibilangin na natin lahat ng miyembro, kunin natin yung three-fourths, magbobotohan tayo.”

(Yes because in the end, we will satisfy the requirement of the Constitution that says three-fourths of all [Congress] members. We will count all the members. We will take the three-fourths, we will vote.)

Para sa amin, complied y’ung requirement ng Saligang Batas (For us, this complies with the requirement of the Constitution).”

Alvarez, Secretary-General of the ruling PDP-Laban, had insisted on joint voting, despite the opinion of senators. 

Senate wants separate voting 

The Con-Ass is one of 3 ways to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution. According to Article XVII of the Constitution, a three-fourths vote of Congress is needed to make final proposals. The amendments or revisions are subject to a plebiscite. 

The Constitution is vague on whether this requires joint or separate deliberations on voting. Framers of the Constitution explained that it is worded that way because it was written on the presumption that the country would have a unitary legislature. When it was changed to a bicameral set-up, the Constitution’s framers forgot to change the provision.

But legal luminaries, including former chief justices and framers of the Constitution, said during a Senate hearing on January 17, that voting should be done separately to reflect the current bicameral set-up. 

During a caucus on January 16, senators unanimously agreed to reject proposals for joint voting. Senator Panfilo Lacson, who filed a resolution for the Senate to convene as a separate Con-Ass, threatened with expulsion senators who would attend the House assembly as this would be seen as agreement to joint voting.

The House had earlier passed a resolution calling on Congress to convene as a Con-Ass. But this would require a similar resolution from the Senate.  

In the event that the Senate does not act on it, former chief justice Reynato Puno said there would be nothing that the House – and even the Supreme Court – could do since it involved a political question. 

Alvarez, a lawyer, had a different view. “That’s their opinion but they are not the Supreme Court. So let’s wait for the Supreme Court and what they have to say about the issue.”  

Both chambers of Congress are working on proposals to either amend or revise the Constitution as part of the push to shift to a federal system of government. – 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.