Opposition hits House 'railroading' constituent assembly resolution

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the House opposition criticized their colleagues for “railroading” a concurrent resolution to convene Philippine Congress as a Constituent Assembly, part of the process to amend the Constitution.

“How can we entrust Charter Change (Cha-Cha) to a Constituent Assembly with the way they railroaded the Cha-Cha concurrent resolution? They didn’t even allow a congressman to finish his interpellation and sinasagasaan na ng Cha-Cha train (The Cha-Cha train was pushed forward),” said Caloocan 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice.

It was Erice’s questioning of the quorum in the House that pushed the voting forward, amid the complaints of legislators belonging to the Makabayan bloc, an independent opposition faction in the House.

ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio tried to question the vote but he was told to ask it after voting, since the House leadership on the floor insisted that voting had already commenced.

Viva voce voting (voting orally) led to the adoption of the resolution.

The Senate will have to pass the same in order for the Constituent Assembly to be convened.

“If anything, it is but an outright show of power of the supermajority and undisputed proof of how Congress now merely acts as a rubber stamp of the executive,” said Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago in a statement after the vote.

Gabriela, also a member of the Makabayan bloc, blasted the House’s refusal to “put the matter into democratic and exhaustive debate.”

“With Con-Ass now adopted by the House, the stage is set for discussions for Charter Change proposals that will only lead to further concentration of political power in the hands of the Chief Executive, total sellout of the Philippine economy, and subversion of people’s democratic rights,” the group, represented in the House by two legislators, said.

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, who belongs to a different opposition bloc, said it only means that the House cannot be trusted to convene as a Constituent Assembly since it would not even allow a discussion of the resolution that allowed it.

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao had earlier interpellated the measure during session.

He questioned Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s timeline for the Constituent Assembly and eventual ratification. Alvarez wants a plebiscite done by May 2018, together with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Asked to clarify the timeline, House constitutional amendments chairman Roger Mercado quipped: “Kung sana ay ipasa na lang natin ito ngayon (Only if we pass it right now).”

Anyway, hindi naman ito controversial, just to convene both Houses… at mapaki-usap natin ang ating mga kasama dito na hindi na sana sila mag interpellate, maka-save tayo ng time. At siguro, next week, maka convene na tayo,” he said, to the applause of some members of the supermajority-dominated House.

(It’s not a controversial measure anyway, it’s just to convene both Houses. So I ask our colleagues here if it’s possible that they don’t interpellate, so we can save time. Maybe by next week, we can convene.)

But the move to convene as a Constituent Assembly isn’t exactly as “non-controversial” as Mercado insists.

While the House leadership is pushing for Congress to convene in a joint session, some senators would rather convene separately. Senators are also pushing for separate voting, pointing out that voting jointly would render their votes useless. (READ: Joint voting on Cha-Cha? Senate's problems, plans against it)

The Senate at present has 23 members while the House has more than 290.

Amendments to the Constitution are part of efforts to shift to a federal form of government, among President Rodrigo Duterte’s promises during the 2016 campaign. – Rappler.com