Speaker Alvarez on lawmakers' fight: It's embarrassing

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Thursday, October 13, that he felt embarrassed by the behavior of two lawmakers who exchanged cuss words after a heated debate on amending the Constitution.

During the committee on constitutional amendments' hearing on Wednesday, October 12, Surigao del Norte Second District Representative Robert Ace Barbers went towards Surigao del Sur First District Representative Prospero Pichay Jr to confront him as they fought over charter change. (READ: Lawmakers squabble at House hearing on amending Charter

The two congressmen hurled expletives at each other and would have brawled if not refereed by their colleagues.

"It's not necessarily damaging but it was negative and an unpleasant thing to witness," Alvarez said in Filipino.

Asked if he would talk to his fellow congressmen about the encounter, the House Speaker said that Pichay and Barbers are "old enough" to understand the consequences of their actions.

Despite the near-brawl, Alvarez said the House will continue pushing for a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) as the mode to fulfill President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promise of shifting to a federal form of government. (READ: Duterte wants Constituent Assembly to amend Constitution

In a Con-Ass, Congress is convened to change the Constitution, while in a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), the delegates will either be appointed or elected by the people.

Arroyo wants 'Con-Ass'

The House Speaker is backed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who now represents the Second District of Pampanga.

Arroyo called on her colleagues on Wednesday to constitute Congress into an assembly to be able to proceed with the government shift.

"We don't really have much time to put a Constitutional Convention and a plebiscite," she said. 

"We [should] agree in principle to constitute ourselves in an assembly so we can move forth for a new constitution and hope that soon the executive order will come out that will put together, that will help us draft a federal and French parliamentary form of government," she added.

Southern Leyte Representative Roger Mercado, who led Wednesday's hearing, called for a nominal vote on the method of amending the Constitution.

This was opposed by lawmakers who said they wanted to consult the public and constitutionalists before they decide whether to push for a Con-Con, Con-Ass, or a People's Initiative. 

'Congress will end up fighting'

Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, who resists charter change, challenged the government to initiate the shift to federalism through a People's Initiative.

"If the proponents of charter change feel there is people's support, then they can do it [through] People's Initiative," he said.

But for Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, a Con-Con is the best method.

He said Barbers and Pichay's behavior on Wednesday proved that Congress cannot amend the Constitution.

"If Congress tackles it, we will probably just fight all day long," Atienza said in Filipino.

"Nagpapakita lang na ang Kongreso ay 'di puwedeng bumalangkas ng Konstitusyon lalo na kung may nag-utos... kasi may agenda eh, nagkakabangga."

(It shows that Congress cannot outline the amendments to the Constitution especially if they're just taking orders. Because there is an agenda, we will just argue.) – Rappler.com 

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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