charter change

Charter change rift deepens between Senate, House

Kaycee Valmonte

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Charter change rift deepens between Senate, House

SENATE AND HOUSE LEADERS. Senate President Migz Zubiri and Speaker Martin Romualdez listen to the second State of the Nation Address of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Batasan Pambansa Monday, July 24, 2023.

Senate PRIB

Amid the word war, some House members remind senators of the nearing 2025 elections. 'Hindi ba kayo hihingi ng tulong?' one of them asks.

MANILA, Philippines – There seems to be no let up in the word war between members of the Senate and the House that was sparked by disagreements on fresh efforts to pursue charter amendments.

Ako Bicol Representative Elizaldy Co on Thursday, February 8, called out Senator Joel Villanueva, citing his “not-so-spotless past” as he had been implicated in the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.

This comes despite the senators’ call for a ceasefire, which even House Majority Leader Representative Manuel Jose “Mannix” Dalipe had reminded colleagues in the upper chamber on Monday.

The House of Representatives, particularly that of the majority, held two back-to-back press conferences this week to address concerns regarding charter change and the standoff between lawmakers from the two chambers.

Surigao del Norte 2nd District Representative Robert Ace Barbers said he is “willing” to facilitate a discussion between the two parties. (RELATED: Senators suggest dialogue to settle spat with House lawmakers)

Kailangan naman talaga mapag-usapan ito dahil hindi naman lingid sa kaalaman ng mga senador at mga kongresista na isang ano ‘to, isang pamamaraan para ma-resolve na itong impasse na ito,” Barbers said on Wednesday, February 7.

(This needs to be talked about because it is not unknown to both senators and House members that it would be one way to resolve this impasse.)

People’s initiative

There have been multiple efforts to amend the Constitution but all of them ended in the Senate. The current push is different, said political analyst and Ateneo de Manila University professor Arjan Aguirre, noting that proponents of charter change have now applied what they learned in past efforts.

“They now know that the procedural matter (manner of changing) and the substantial aspect (what to change) are two separate issues that need to be handled well or reconciled if one wants to advance in their agenda or plans on chacha,” Aguirre told Rappler on January 27.

House lawmakers, even House Speaker Martin Romualdez himself, said they would be pushing for charter change this year through a people’s initiative. The public petition, which has been clouded with allegations of bribery and misuse of public funds, began circulating in early January.

The rift between the two houses of Congress started when senators signed a manifesto rejecting the House’s new push for charter change, which proposes that both chambers vote jointly on proposed amendments. (READ: ‘Walang gamot sa kakapalan ng mukha’: Cha-Cha movement deepens feud vs Martin, Imee)

“While it seems simple, the goal is apparent to make it easier to revise the Constitution by eliminating the Senate from the equation,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said in January 23.

Charter change rift deepens between Senate, House

This prompted a probe into the people’s initiative itself, with senators asking if it is a “politician’s initiative” under the guise of a public petition. House lawmakers did not take the investigation lightly as they viewed it as a way of denouncing the lower chamber.

“This is what happens when a supposedly democratic mechanism like the people’s initiative is tainted with elite politicking,” De La Salle University political science professor Anthony Lawrence Borja told Rappler on Wednesday.

‘Inter-parliamentary courtesy’

On Monday, February 5, the House of Representatives passed yet another resolution expressing support for Romualdez. This time, the lower chamber sought to shield the institution and its leadership from what it called an “intense assault” from the Senate.

“While taking criticisms is part and parcel of a healthy and working democracy, the House takes exception to the recent statements and allegations made by the Senate that undermine the independence, reputation, and integrity of the House of Representatives and the leadership of the Speaker,” House Resolution 1562 read.

Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel expressed disappointment that the House resolution accused the Senate of violating inter-parliamentary courtesy and “undue interference in the performance of its legislative and constituent functions” as he said that their House colleagues were also doing the same thing.

Charter change rift deepens between Senate, House

But did the Senate actually break inter-parliamentary courtesy? University of the Philippines professor and political analyst Ela Atienza emphasized that the two chambers are “co-equal.”

“They are there precisely to check on each other,” Atienza told Rappler on Wednesday. “Besides, charter change and PI issues have far-reaching consequences for the country and can be a point of Senate discussion or inquiry,” she added.

For Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman, House members have the right to feel offended as the standoff between the two chambers could have been avoided. 

“This rift would not have existed in the first place had we exercised some form or minimum amount of empathy…. What if we organize a congressional inquiry then we will target SP Migz Zubiri? But of course, we will never do that,” Roman said in a mix of English and Filipino on Tuesday, February 6.

During the Senate investigation, the lead convenor of the People’s Initiative for Modernization and Reform Action (PIRMA) said they received help from Romualdez to get the public petition going. While the Speaker had admitted to meeting with PIRMA coordinators, he said he did so only as a form of open dialogue. (RELATED: Davao witnesses link PBA party-list workers to ‘deceptive’ Cha-Cha initiative)

Counting past favors

Congressmen also slammed senators who reportedly belittle them as the two chambers’ hierarchy became part of the argument. Roman recalled that some candidates for the Senate also reached out to district representatives and even those from political parties to rally votes for them.

“We celebrated your victories…. In fact, marami akong naririnig na mga kongresista, eto nga nangako sa ‘kin ng ganitong project, ng ganitong programa para sa aking constituents. Lahat ginagawa namin para makisama, tapos napapako naman ‘yung mga pangako. You tell us that we cannot feel intensely about things?

(In fact, I heard a lot of stories from other congressmen, telling me about a project promised to them, a program for their constituents. We did everything just so we could get along, but then you didn’t keep your promises. You tell us that we cannot feel intensely about things?)

TGP Representative Jose “Bong” Teves Jr. also reminded senators of the upcoming 2025 polls.

“Mag-e-eleksyon na naman,” Teves said. “Hindi ba kayo hihingi ng tulong?” (Election season is right around the corner. Won’t you ask for help?)

Senators began discussing Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 last week. Although the upper chamber first said they planned to finish discussions before Congress goes on break in March, senators now said they might finish deliberations by October.

By then, those seeking reelection would already be focused on their respective campaigns.

Aside from the possibility of the proposed provisions getting side-stepped, Borja said lawmakers might change their tune on charter change. “This can entail some to switch sides on the issue if they are bound to lose votes because of it, threatening the momentum of the Cha-Cha push itself,” he said. –

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.