charter change

In Cha-Cha push, can Padilla invite House lawmakers to Senate hearings?

Bonz Magsambol

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In Cha-Cha push, can Padilla invite House lawmakers to Senate hearings?

Senator Robin Padilla during the senate hearing on Constitutional Convention on Proposed Amendments, on March 20, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Inter-parliamentary courtesy has been the buzz phrase from both chambers of Congress as heated discussions on proposals to amend the 1987 constitution ensue. What does it mean?

MANILA, Philippines – After holding his committee hearing before the Senate went on break, an eager Senator Robin Padilla faced the media to answer questions about his proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution. This, despite not getting enough support from his colleagues.

Marami po tayong mga gustong mangyari. Kaya tayo ‘di pa nag-adjourn kung napansin ninyo po, inaasahan pa natin na pagka nabigyan tayo ng pahintulot na magkaroon ng harapan na pag-uusap sa kabilang komite, ng HOR (House of Representatives), gusto natin talagang matuloy ‘yan,” Padilla told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday, March 22.

(We want many things to happen. The reason why we haven’t adjourned yet is that we still hope that our request for discussion with the committee counterpart from the HOR would still happen.)

Padilla was still hopeful that his committee on constitutional amendments would be able to invite counterpart lawmakers from the House as resource persons for Senate hearings on charter change (Cha-Cha).

On March 20, the neophyte senator was supposed to host the House lawmakers in the Senate for a joint hearing but this was canceled at the last minute. This disappointed Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who is the committee chair of the same panel at the lower chamber.

Padilla pointed a finger at Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, saying that he just took an order from his boss.

“There are things here at the Senate and at the HOR where we should abide by the orders of our leaders. I have a leader and my leader is Senator Migz Zubiri,” Padilla said in Filipino.

For Zubiri’s part, he ordered the cancellation of the supposed joint hearing because “traditionally, the Senate does not invite incumbent members of Congress as resource persons, as they are accorded parliamentary courtesy, being members of a coequal branch of legislation.”

“Being a neophyte senator, the chair of the committee may not yet be fully abreast with the traditions and practices of both chambers. But this tradition is to protect him and his committee as well, as we want to avoid a scenario in which conflicting opinions and heated arguments may take place, putting the chairperson in a bind, particularly on how to rule on such discussions,” he added.

The public exchange between Zubiri and Padilla was the latest display of disagreement at the Senate over charter change.

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Zubiri schools ‘neophyte’ Padilla over canceled Cha-Cha hearing

Zubiri schools ‘neophyte’ Padilla over canceled Cha-Cha hearing

While a bill that seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution via “hybrid” constitutional convention (Con-Con) hurdled the House through an overwhelming majority of 301-7, Zubiri earlier told ABS-CBN News that a similar measure will fail at the Senate, as it will need the votes of three-fourths of the chamber, or at least 18 senators. Padilla had said in a February 23 forum, however, at least 11 senators support charter change.

Despite this, Padilla was still insistent on inviting House lawmakers for his committee’s Cha-Cha hearings, saying that there’s no rule in the Senate that prohibits senators from inviting their counterparts in the lower chamber as resource persons.

But can the actor-turned-politician actually do this?

Inter-parliamentary courtesy

“Inter-parliamentary courtesy” has been the buzz phrase from both chambers of Congress as heated discussions on proposals to amend the 1987 constitution ensue. What does it mean?

Political expert and University of the Philippines (UP) professor Jean Franco said that inter-parliamentary courtesy is a “norm between the two chambers indicating that they will not meddle in the affairs of each other’s houses.”

“Sometimes, unwritten rules are more powerful. You tend to obey or subscribe to this unwritten rule,” Franco said.  

Another political expert, also a UP professor, Ela Atienza echoed this, saying that this principle basically means, “they have their own jobs, and they have to follow rules, and they have to respect one another.”

“Even if we call the Senate the upper house and the House as the lower house, they are considered co-equal parts of the legislature so they are supposed to check and balance each other,” she said.

While there is no explicit rule on inviting House lawmakers as resource persons in the Senate, it would be difficult for Padilla to do this since Zubiri already clearly indicated his opposition to it.

What can the senator do?

Both Franco and Atienza said that Padilla can do back-channeling to push his agenda.

“We have alliances, political parties, so alam natin na puwede na ‘yung magkaalyado ay mag-sponsor ng bills (so we know that we can turn to our allies to sponsor bills),” Atienza said.

However, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent pronouncement that Cha-Cha won’t be a priority under his administration, talks on constitutional amendments would likely fizzle out.

Padilla’s political party, PDP-Laban, chaired by former president Rodrigo Duterte, has already expressed support for Cha-Cha, but it remains unclear whether it’s backing the lower house’s push for a Con-Con or the senator’s push for a constituent assembly.

Inter-parliamentary courtesy violated in the past?

Has there been any instance when inter-parliamentary courtesy was violated in the past?

In 2016, opposition lawmakers claimed that the House violated inter-parliamentary courtesy when the lower chamber investigated then-senator Leila de Lima’s alleged involvement in the drug problem at the New Bilibid Prison. (READ: De Lima: House inquiry a ‘spectacle’ full of lies)

Meanwhile, Senators Risa Hontiveros, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, and Loren Legarda filed a resolution condemning the House plan against their colleague, which was to show De Lima’s alleged private video at a congressional hearing. They called it a form of slut-shaming.

No sex tape was shown at the hearing, but House lawmakers gave lurid details about it.

Why senators oppose Cha-Cha

Atienza said senators are strongly opposing Cha-Cha because it would affect them. 

While Padilla has said that he would only touch economic provisions in the Constitution, Atienza said that “once you call for instant Con-Con, you open up the Constitution to so many things.”

Observers have said that senators are not keen on Cha-Cha because there’s a possibility that amendments can include making Congress unicameral. 

“Ang isang threat sa kanila, by district ang election ng senators (One threat for them is that election of senators will be per district),” Atienza said, adding that senators fear that they won’t be able to win in their respective districts.

‘Toe the line’

If there’s one thing that Franco would advise Padilla, it is to subscribe to the unwritten rules of Congress.

“If I were his adviser, I would tell him to subscribe to the unwritten rule. Mainly because, if you’re new to the chamber, you have to toe the line because others before you already built their stature. It’s one way to respect that and to know your limitations as a neophyte senator,” she said.

Meanwhile, Atienza said that if Padilla disobeys inter-parliamentary courtesy, this would hurt him in the long run, especially when getting support from his colleagues to back his pet bills in the future.

“He is a newbie. Of course, he is holding on to his popularity and his advocacy of pushing for Cha-Cha. But part of this is he has to learn to respect collegiality and tradition. Kung mapasobra ‘yun (If he insists on this), publicly, he can be perceived as being used by members of the House,” Atienza said. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.