Senators slam Speaker’s plan to convene Con Ass without Senate

Senators before the second regular session of the 17th Congress at the Senate opened yesterday. From left are (seated): Senators Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay, Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Vicente Sotto, Loren Legarda, Grace Poe, Risa Hontiveros, (standing) Richard Gordon, Miguel Zubiri, Panfilo Lacson, Gringo Honasan, Edgardo Angara Jr., JV Ejercito, Emmanuel Pacquiao, (third row) Joel Villanueva, Benigno ‘Bam’ Aquino, Francis Escudero, and Sherwin Gatchalian.

MANILA — Senators slammed on Tuesday the position of key House of Representatives leaders that they could convene a constitutional assembly (Con Ass) to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution even without the participation of the Senate.

“For their own sake, they should not allow themselves to look pathetic and worse, ridiculous,’’ Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said.

“Having said that, they should read the 1987 Constitution in its entirety, or at the very least, Art XVII, Sec. 1 (Amendments or Revisions) in relation to Art VI Sec. 1 (Legislative Department) that explicitly refers to “the Congress” as the Senate and the House of Representatives,’’ he said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, on the other hand, said Charter change (Cha Cha) cannot be done by the House of Representatives alone.

“The House of Representatives cannot dance the ‘cha-cha’ without the Senate,’’ he said.

Drilon, a former Justice secretary, said the Constitution provides that Congress, upon a vote of three fourths of all its members, can amend the Constitution.

“The Constitution is crystal clear with regard to the composition of Congress. Under Article VI, Section 1, ‘Congress of the Philippines’ shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives,’’ he added.

Thus, the House of Representatives alone cannot constitute themselves as a constituent assembly (Con Ass) and by its own three-fourths vote, cannot amend the Constitution. They cannot do it without the other house which is the Senate, he stressed.

The participation of the Senate is required by the Constitution and therefore necessary,’’ he added.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the Lower House would no longer seek to amend the Constitution through a Con Ass but propose amendments on its own and have these submitted directly to the people in a referendum.

Alvarez again said the House does not need the Senate to amend the Constitution.

“What assembly? Where is it in the Constitution? We are already starting,’’ Alvarez said, adding that the House had already begun amending the Constitution at the committee level.

Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said he expects the holding of a caucus among all House members to act on the proposal to convene a Con Ass with or without the Senate’s participation.

If the Senate does not decide in the next two weeks whether or not to join the Con Ass to amend the 31-year-old Charter, the Lower House would proceed with amending the Constitution with or without the senators, Mercado said.

Lacson, however, stressed that interpreting “the Congress” under Art XVII to refer to one chamber only is at best, self-serving.

“They pride themselves as lawyers in good standing but it only takes a layman who knows how to read and understand simple words and literature in order to appreciate what is right and wrong,’’ Lacson said.

Lacson is a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief during the abbreviated tenure of then President Joseph Estrada.

“As for questioning the House’s move before the Supreme Court, there is need, and we will not. They can propose amendments or revision all they want but at the end of the day, a plebiscite would necessitate an item in the General Appropriations Act (GAA or national budget) to be appropriated for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct such plebiscite,’’ he said.

“Interpreting ‘the Congress’ under Art XVII to refer to one chamber only is at best, self-serving. They pride themselves as lawyers in good standing but it only takes a layman who knows how to read and understand simple words and literature in order to appreciate what is right and wrong,’’ he stressed.

  ‘’Without the Senate, how can such appropriation materialize?’’ he asked.
To Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party (LP), the strategy is for the House of Representatives to force the issue and have the Supreme Court step in and decide in their favor.

“The administration has bullied the political opposition, its critics, the chief justice, the media, selected business interests, and now it wants to bully the Senate,’’ he said.

Pangilinan said ‘’the bullying of the House is an abuse of those in power, we should not let it pass.’’

If the Senate allows itself to be bullied, then our democracy and respect for the law will be thrown out the window and anyone can be a victim of the abuses of those in power,’’ he explained.

Pangilinan said the last three attempts at Charter change during the administrations of Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo were all thwarted because the people themselves vehemently opposed it for being self-serving and meant to benefit only those already in power.

“The people in their vast numbers mobilized and organized to oppose Charter change is key in stopping this senseless, mad and shameless rush to amend the Constitution,’’ he said.

“If they want to talk about Charter change, let’s talk about it in a proper, legal manner. We will not be bullied or rushed into it,’’ he added