Puno agrees with Senate on separate charter change voting

MANILA, Philippines – Consultative Committee (Con-Com) members, led by former chief justice Reynato Puno, agree with the Senate that the two chambers of Congress must vote separately on amendments to the Constitution.

"I expressed my personal opinion that the voting should be done separately by both the houses of Congress," said Puno on Tuesday, July 17 during the Senate hearing on charter change.

He and the other committee members present were asked by Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV for their interpretation of the 1987 Constitution which is vague on the manner by which Congress proposes revisions to the charter.

Puno said his interpretation is based on "historical reasons, a coherent reading of the different provisions of the constitution, the need to know the intent of the makers of our constitution."

Another Con-Com member, former senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr, agreed.

"[Voting must be done] separately.The 280 plus members of the House will dilute the 24 senators if you vote jointly. You should vote separately so the 24 senators can determine by themselves what their direction is," said Pimentel.

The 3 other Con-Com members present, former justice Antonio Nachura, political science professor Julio Teehankee, and Local Government Development Foundation executive director Edmund Tayao, agreed that voting must be done separately.

Aquino also asked if a Senate resolution is needed for Congress to convene as Con-Ass.

"Can Cha-cha be done by the Lower House without a resolution from the Senate?" he asked the Con-Com members in Filipino. 

Pimentel replied, "It cannot be done na sila lang (just by them)."

Nachura also said that, according to constitutional law books, voting must be done separately.

Consistent with Senate stand

The interpretations of the Con-Com members bolster that of the Senate and legal luminaries, including the framers of the 1987 Constitution themselves. (READ: 'Con-Ass without Senate won't pass legal, constitutional, logical test')

All 23 senators have made a united stand not to issue a Con-Ass resolution unless voting on constitutional amendments will be done separately, not jointly.

This is because joint voting would render their 23 votes obsolete against the nearly 300 votes of the lower house, dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte allies.

Meanwhile, the House has already issued its Con-Ass resolution. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insists that the House can convene into a Con-Ass even without the Senate.

This impasse stems from vagueness in the 1987 Constitution.

According to its Article XVII, 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 January Senate hearing on January 17, that voting should be done separately to reflect the current bicameral set-up. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.