Dispute on Cha-cha vote splits Congress

Kat Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2018 11:58 AM | Updated as of Jul 10 2019 03:08 PM

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MANILA - The House of Representatives may proceed with its plan to convene as a constituent assembly despite a deadlock with the Senate over the manner of voting, Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro said Thursday.

"We can proceed with the con-ass because they (Senate) agree with con-ass. (The disagreement is) only on the matter of separate voting, so I think the House of Representatives may proceed," Castro said in an interview on ANC's Early Edition.

The two branches of Congress have been divided on the manner of voting during charter change deliberations.

Senators said voting jointly with House members may technically dissolve the 24-member Senate as the chamber will easily be outvoted by the House with about 292 members.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the House cannot proceed without a counterpart measure from the Senate as the resolution adopted to to convene as a constituent assembly was a Resolution of Both Houses.

"Naghihintay sila ngayon ng sagot ng Senado. Hindi sila aandar kasi joint 'yan e," Pimentel said in an interview on DZMM.

(They have to wait for the Senate's answer to the resolution. They cannot proceed because it's a joint resolution.)

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the leaders of the two legislative chambers will meet next week to discuss the planned charter change.

"Siguro by next week magpupulong kami. Kailangan kasi we have to agree first sa structure nung gobyerno. Kasi pag nag-agree na tayo kung ano ang istraktura, everything else follows. Wala na hong problema, mabilis na po iyun, madali na po iyun," Alvarez said.

Alvarez, however, reiterated that the House's stance on joint voting is non-negotiable.

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"Malinaw ang titik ng ating Saligang Batas na nakalagay doon na Congress, by a vote of three-fourths of all its members, may amend or revise the Constitution. Malinaw na malinaw ang provision na iyun at wala na pong room for interpretation," Alvarez said.

(The Constitution made it very clear that the Congress may amend the Constitution by a vote of three-fourths of all its members. That provision is very clear and it has not room for other interpretations.)

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate will snub the House's resolution to convene as a constituent assemble should representatives insist on voting jointly with senators.

Senator Panfilo Lacson moved that senators who will attend the joint assembly be expelled from the Senate. Drilon said no one objected to Lacson's motion.

Castro said senators seem to be "abandoning" their responsibility to the people should they proceed with boycotting the House's resolution to convene a constituent assembly.

"To break the impasse, they have to be sensible. They have to divest themselves of their personal interests, their apprehensions," he said.

On Wednesday, former chief justice Reynato Puno said the Supreme Court cannot intervene with the legislative's deadlock on the cha-cha vote.

"The Supreme Court still does not have jurisdiction to accommodate and decide questions that are political in character. The issue that we are talking about is a political question," Puno told senators during the first public hearing on charter change.

"The resolution is lost and you (Senate) cannot be subject to a writ of mandamus," Puno said.

If the vote dispute cannot be resolved, lawmakers are looking at the possibility of holding separate constituent assemblies.

"'Yung ipapasa sa taong bayan sa plebisito, dapat pumasa 'yun ng three-fourths sa House, three-fourths sa Senado. Kung hindi mag-a-agree, wala tayong mapro-propose sa taong bayan (na charter change)," Pimentel said.

(The choices that will be put to a vote in a plebiscite must be passed by three-fourths of the House and three-fourths of the Senate. If we cannot agree on anything, we cannot propose anything to the people.)

Pimentel said other senators are also considering calling a constitutional assembly to put an end to the voting stalemate.