MANILA - The House of Representatives will push through with plans to change the Charter and is looking at holding a plebiscite in February.
In a weekly news forum at the Manila Hotel, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, who favors a constitutional convention of elected delegates over a constituent assembly of lawmakers in proposing charter amendments, notes his colleagues have already started deliberations.
Committee Report 881 and Resolution of Both Houses 15 were sponsored in the plenary session of the House last Monday, only to be remanded back to the committee on constitutional amendments for a few changes.
"From the signs that we see in the plenary now mga tina-take up nilang issue they're trying to introduce the changes they have been discussing in silence and whispers," Atienza said.
For Atienza, his colleagues are insisting on the impossible. “Matigas ang ulo. They are not practical enough to say what I just said with less than 40 session days we will change the Constitution impossible, impossible.”
Atienza maintained that House Speaker Gloria Arroyo disowned most of the amendments to the political provisions. He said he will revive his proposal for a con-con in the future.
“At the right time, we will revive it, maybe not in this Congress kasi imposible na ngayon. 'Di na ngayon magagawa 'yan. I don't see this present Congress ,with our limited number of session days remaining, being able to change the Constitution."
Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, confirmed the House will proceed to deliberate on Charter change when it resumes plenary sessions next week, with a view of holding a vote in December 2018.
“Let me put it this way. We have 1 month break, more or less we will be back about November 12. November 12 up to perhaps the first week of December, we will already be through with this Resolution 15. Resolution 15 is the draft of the proposed revised constitution. Now here is a draft that has gone through a lot of hearings, a lot of meetings, a lot of consultations nationwide for almost 2 years now so there is nothing more that we have to add to it. In fact, we had to suspend because we had to wait for the Puno committee to finish their work. This was finished before the SONA last July 2018, almost 3 months ago. That said, timeline namin, timetable is about 2nd week of December," he said.
Veloso explained a plebiscite may be held in February 2019 because the Supreme Court can now finally decide the question on whether the 2 chambers can vote separately or jointly.
The 1987 Constitution did not specify this in Article 17, with Section 1 merely saying amendments can be proposed by “(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; “. This has been interpreted by Senators as separate voting because of the bicameral nature of the Congress and any interpretation to the contrary will render the 24-man Senate irrelevant because of the numerical superiority of the almost 300-man House of Representatives.
Veloso explained that the House is already working as a constituent assembly, which can now be questioned before the Supreme Court.
House Concurrent Resolution 9, which convenes the Assembly, was adopted January 16, 2018. House Resolution 2056, which specifies separate voting, is pending before the plenary in the period of interpellation and is now part of the unfinished business of the House after former Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said he may assail the proceedings before the Supreme Court.
"If that really would depend on the moves of other parties because when I was sponsoring on the floor resolution on voting separately I was interpellated by former Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas and he threatened to go to the Supreme Court if we will proceed with it," Veloso said.
He added: "So I would assume that he will go to the Supreme Court and there are a lot of things that can happen here. I do not know if the president will already intervene and put the Senate into motion. Otherwise if the Supreme Court will eventually say voting is jointly then that would make the 23 senators more or less part of the House of Representatives."
In the August 14 plenary session of the House, Fariñas said during his interpellation of Veloso: "I beg to disagree with the Senate that since we are a bicameral Congress, we should also work as a bicameral assembly in terms of proposing amendments to the Constitution. That would be I think a wrong interpretation because we will be held hostage by 24 members as against people here who represent every nook and corner of the country."
Veloso said the issue of separate or joint voting is now a justiciable issue that can be elevated to the Supreme Court for review.
If the Supreme Court favors joint voting, they can now proceed to revise the 1987 Constitution without the Senate.
RBH 15 was remanded back to the Committee last week so it can restore the vice-president as the constitutional successor in case of a vacancy in the presidency during the transition amid outcry from the critics of House Speaker Arroyo who have accused her of using it as a pathway to the presidency again.
Veloso, however, does not think the House will change its mind on lifting term limits for all positions except the president and vice-president.
He said as much as 65% of RBH 15 came from the draft submitted by the consultative committee of President Duterte.
The House, however, modified the proposal on the shift to a federal government, as Arroyo had opted to instead make it a mere option on the part of Congress. RBH 15 does not make the shift automatic and merely empowers Congress to create federal states upon a proper petition.
“Since we cannot decide now just how many states we need, how much it will cost, the nitty gritty of federal states, the proposal of Speaker Arroyo was very simple - let Congress finish this as a continuation of the constituent assembly what we are doing now so we have in Article 12 provision which says that if provinces will decide to form a federal state," he said.