‘Con-Ass without Senate won’t pass legal, constitutional, logical test’

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is insistent on his plan to convene the House of Representatives – without the Senate – as a Constituent Assembly for Charter Change, but as one lawyer points out, that simply won’t fly.

“It does not pass any kind of legal, policy, constitutional, or even logical test,” said former Ateneo School of Government and law profession Tony La Viña, when asked to comment on Alvarez’ latest pronouncements.

The Davao del Norte 1st District Representative said in a radio interview on Thursday, January 18, that the House would still convene as a Constituent Assembly in order to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution. He said this would push through even if senators do not participate in the proceedings.

Alvarez’s basis for this assertion is Article XVII of the Constitution, which states that a 3/4 vote of Congress is needed to propose amendments to the document. A plebiscite is needed for these proposals to take effect.

But the political opposition and legal experts – including those who framed the Constitution – have been insisting that it does not work that way.

“The only way a Constituent Assembly can be convened is if there is a joint resolution by both Houses. Without a Senate resolution, the House can still convene and tackle constitutional amendments but not as a Constituent Assembly but as the House of Representatives. Without similar action by the Senate, it dies there,” said La Viña.

This is a view shared by former chief justice Reynato Puno, among the framers of the current Constitution. Puno also happens to be one of the people President Rodrigo Duterte is eyeing to head a 25-person Constitutional Commission that would recommend amendments to the Constitution.

Puno, during a Senate hearing on Charter Change on Wednesday, January 17, added that the Supreme Court (SC) cannot intervene and make the Senate act on the House resolution, because it is a political matter.

The House earlier adopted a resolution calling on the 17th Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly.

Ifugao Representative and opposition legislator Teddy Baguilat said Alvarez’s interpretation was “skewed.”

“We still have to await Senate action whether they will join the House in calling for a Constituent assembly and then resolve the very primordial issue of whether we deliberate jointly as one body or decide separately,” he added.

The Senate has yet to act on the resolution.

La Viña said it’s possible for the two chambers to convene and vote separately, and pass amendments or revisions similar to how they pass regular bills. However, they would have to get a 3/4 majority vote, as stipulated in the Constitution.

A bicameral conference would then be needed should the proposed amendments differ. “That's an untested scenario proposed first by Fr. Bernas in the context of the MOA-AD in 2007-2008,” he said. Joaquin Bernas, who teaches at the Ateneo Law School, is also a framer of the Constitution.

This is the scenario that Senator Panfilo Lacson is pushing through a resolution filed before the Senate. – Rappler.com