Despite unanimous Senate 'no,' Alvarez insists on joint voting for Cha-Cha

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday, January 17, insisted that the House of Representatives and the Senate must vote jointly should it convene as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) for Charter Change (Cha-Cha).

Alvarez made the assertion late Wednesday, after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that during a caucus, senators were "unanimous" in rejecting proposals for the two chambers to vote jointly in a Con-Ass.

"We respect the belief in separate voting, but I believe in joint voting. To me, it's very clear in the Constitution that three-fourths of all members of the Congress [should vote]. So that means all members, all of us will vote together, particularly when it comes to amendments in the Constitution," Alvarez said in an interview over dzMM.

But legal luminaries and framers of the 1987 Constitution, during a Senate hearing on Cha-Cha, all advocated for separate voting for the two chambers, consistent with the bicameral mode of legislature.

"We are representatives of the people. We are the nearest link to the people, so why should senators' vote have more weight than a congressman?" insisted Alvarez, who represents the 1st District of Davao del Norte.

The Senate is composed of up to 24 senators, who are elected at-large by qualified voters of the country. The House, meanwhile, is composed of over 290 members who are either elected by a legislative district or represent a party-list group.

Senators have argued against joint voting, saying it diminishes the power of the Senate. They have also argued that since the regular process of passing a law necessitates separate deliberations and voting, something as important as amendments to the Constitution should follow the same process.

Constitution framers explained during the Senate hearing that Article XVII, which deals with the process of amending or revising the Constitution, was written under the assumption that Congress would be unicameral.

When the Constitution was revised to make way for a bicameral legislature, this particular article was simply left unchanged, hence the vague wording.

Drilon, in a chance interview on the sidelines of the hearing, said there were "rumors" that one or two senators might show up at the House for a Con-Ass, thus constituting a "joint session."

Senator Panfilo Lacson suggested that any senator who would defy their "unanimous" decision should face expulsion.

But Alvarez said he doubts this threat since it "isn't a ground for expulsion."

"If that's unethical, I think as long as the Constituent Assembly is convened legally... if someone wants to attend, should you stop that person? It is a constitutional duty," he said.

The House on Tuesday, January 16, adopted a resolution calling on the 17th Congress to convene as a Con-Ass. In order for it to take effect, the Senate must adopt a similar resolution.

Alvarez, a lawyer, also thinks that even if the Senate refuses to participate, Cha-Cha will still push through.

"There's the Supreme Court to decide if we're right or not," he said.

It is unclear if Alvarez meant that he would push through with a Con-Ass even if the Senate does not adopt a counterpart resolution.

The House is in the process of consolidating sub-committee proposals to amend the Constitution. – Rappler.com