Recto reminds House: Can’t do Cha-cha alone

Photo from CNN Philippines

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto reminded their counterparts in the House of Representatives against pushing plans for congressmen to convene as a constituent assembly (Con-ass) without the Senate, and pass Charter changes (Cha-cha) by themselves.

“It takes two to Cha-cha,” Recto said on Thursday.

In a statement, the Senate leader likened the House scheme to “a boxer going up the boxing ring for a full 12 rounds with no opponent and then triumphantly declaring yourself a winner by unanimous decision.”

Recto added that the three-fourths vote required for a Con-ass to amend the Constitution covers both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“The three-fourth voting formula, to be exercised by one chamber alone, is the wrong calculus,” said Recto, pointing out that the Constitution itself “speaks of a bicameral legislature.” Moreover, the senator asserts that if the two chambers of Congress are needed to pass a bill changing the name of a barangay, “then how can one house arrogate upon itself the far more important job of changing the basic law of the land?”

Recto, “other than a dubious recourse that violates the Charter itself,” suggested there are other ways of amending the 1987 Constitution.

This developed as Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III affirmed that senators and congressmen must first forge a consensus on how their two chambers would vote before the lawmakers can start the process of amending the Constitution.

“The two chambers of Congress—the Senate and House of Representatives—must agree whether to vote jointly or separately, otherwise they could not proceed to amend the 1987 Constitution,” Pimentel said. “We have to follow the same procedure to have proposed amendments to the Constitution. If we don’t, we can’t propose amendments.

Interviewed after a Senate hearing on Charter-change issues, Pimentel points out that, “if the Cha-cha is a dance, the two partners must dance the same dance. If they’re dancing different dances, then we don’t have a Cha-cha.”

Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson Sr. early this week filed a resolution calling on the Senate to convene as a Con-ass and vote on Charter amendments separate from the House of Representatives. The House earlier voted to adopt a resolution to convene the Con-ass and vote jointly with the Senate in passing Charter amendments.

But Pimentel opted to await transmittal to the Senate of the House approved resolution before deciding on their next move.

“Let us wait until we get a copy of whatever the House passed before we act on it,” Pimentel said, adding: “They will communicate it to the Senate officially and formally.”

Pimentel recalled that the senators, during their closed-door caucus on Tuesday, reached a unanimous consensus that the Senate should vote separately from the House when adopting Charter changes to be submitted for ratification in a national referendum. “All senators believe that voting should be separately.”

At the same time, Sen. Grace Poe proposed that lawmakers first ascertain what they aim to achieve in pushing plans to tinker with the Charter. “Before we amend our Constitution, we need to determine what it is we want to achieve,” Poe said, adding that “federalism is not a magic pill to address all of our country’s problems.”

For instance, Poe points out that, if lawmakers want to strengthen local autonomy, some issues are better addressed by amending the Local Government Code.   “We need stronger institutions, not strongmen. We should enact the Freedom of information and anti-dynasty bills in order to ensure meaningful participation of people in government, with or without Federalism,” she added.

The senator also suggested that a review of the economic provisions of the Constitution is needed to encourage more investments to achieve economic growth but added, “This can also be done in the meantime by amending the Public Services Act.”

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