Constitution ‘not a poem’ you can put meaning into – Alvarez

Bea Cupin
Constitution ‘not a poem’ you can put meaning into – Alvarez

Malacañan Photo

Amid moves toward Charter Change, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez says laws must be interpreted in simple terms

MANILA, Philippines – With a copy of the 1987 Constitution in tow, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez again insisted that the House of Representatives is more than enough to amend the Charter.

“Ang mahirap kasi dito… gusto nilang bigyan ng ibang kahulugan iyong nakalathala diyan. Hindi tula ito na puwede mong bigyan ng ibang kahulugan,” said Alvarez on Monday, January 22, in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

(What’s difficult is that they want to give a different meaning to what’s published there. This is not a poem which you can give a new meaning to.)

Alvarez was asked about his insistence that the House can push through with a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) to propose amendments to the Constitution even without the Senate’s cooperation. Unlike his threat to cut the budget of uncooperative lawmakers, said Alvarez, this pronouncement is no joke.

Section 3, Article XVII of the Constitution reads: “The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”

To Alvarez, this means that the Senate and the House should vote jointly. But senators decided unanimously that voting should be done separately to reflect the bicameral nature of the legislature.

Alvarez, a lawyer, also thinks the House can go ahead and convene into a Con-Ass even if senators refuse to participate.

The House has already passed House Concurrent Resolution Number 9, which calls on Congress to convene into a Con-Ass in order to propose amendments to the Constitution.

The measure is pending before the Senate.

Alvarez has also said they would push through with this interpretation of the Constitution, and would leave it to the Supreme Court (SC) to later affirm or refute it.

But during a Senate hearing on Charter Change, former chief justice Reynato Puno said the SC may not comment on the apparent deadlock because it is a political question.

“Laws must be interpreted kung simple, kung ano ‘yung intindi noong ordinaryong mamamayan na kapag binasa niya iyan, iyon ang ibig sabihin niyan. Kasi mayroong unwritten rules diyan sa paggawa ng batas,” Alvarez said.

(Laws must be interpreted in simple terms, how ordinary citizens would understand it if they read it, that’s what it means. Because there are unwritten rules in crafting laws.)

Framers of the Constitution said during the Senate hearing that the article was crafted under the assumption that the country would have a unicameral legislature. When it was changed to a bicameral setup, this part of the Charter was left unchanged.

House committee on constitutional amendments chairman Roger Mercado earlier denied there was a rift between the two chambers of Congress, telling reporters in a press conference that these differences were normal and part of healthy discussions. (LOOK BACK: Past Charter Change attempts and why they failed)

Alvarez initially wanted the Con-Ass to convene by January 2018 and for a plebiscite to be held in May 2018, alongside barangay elections. But on Monday, Alvarez said the plebiscite could be held in May 2019 instead, or alongside mid-term elections. (READ: ‘Majority of voters illiterate,’ need education on Cha-Cha – Panelo) –

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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.