Ex-chief justice sees 'anomalous' vote result under joint constituent assembly

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2018 03:31 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2018 03:55 PM

MANILA - Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the Supreme Court could ultimately step in and break a congressional impasse on how to vote as a constituent assembly over a new constitution.

Puno warned of an “anomalous result” if the much bigger House of Representatives would insist on a joint vote, a scenario senators fear would render their 24-man chamber irrelevant.

“You don't resort to an interpretatation (of the constitution) that will bring you an anomalous result,” he said in a two-part ANC Early Edition interview to be aired starting Wednesday.

“The anomalous result here is to negate totally the powers of the Senate as an institution.”

Senators and House leaders are divided over the interpretation of the provision saying Congress could amend or revise the constitution “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.”

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said the House could proceed even without the senators, who insist on separate voting.

Puno said the matter could be brought to the Supreme Court if the Senate passes its own constituent assembly resolution but calls for separate, not joint, voting. 

“That conflict is, to me, a justiciable issue. That is a matter that is proper and fit for interpretation by the Supreme Court,” he said.

LITERAL

But the high court, he said, could not intervene in a scenario where the Senate goes for a constititional convention or decides against amending or revising the constitution at this time.

“That position, to me, is a political judgment, which involves a political question. And therefore, given our age-old jurisprudence, that is not reviewable by the Supreme Court,” he said, noting that neither chamber could compel the other to support its preferred mode.

Puno described Alvarez’s reading of the con-ass vote provision as “literal.”

“That is not the way to interpret the Constitution.
When you interpret a provision of the Constitution, the first thing you do is to look at its history, its inception, and how it was reworded along the way,” the retired chief justice said.

“If you are able to do that, then you comprehend the spirit of the provision. And as they say, when the spirit ceases, the law ceases because the intent is the more important.”

Puno said senators and House members sitting as a constituent assembly should hold a joint session but vote separately.