The House of Representatives cannot force the Senate to join in a constitutional assembly to vote on the proposed Charter change, saying the Senate has discretionary power, former Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice and Consultative Committee (ConCom) chairman Reynato Puno said.
He also sought the rejection of the House bill since it is vastly different from the draft charter that the body formed by President Rodrigo Duterte submitted to the chamber.
The House on Tuesday passed on third and final reading its own draft federal charter which Puno believes is a “disaster to democracy” as he noted that, aside from removing the ban on political dynasties, the House draft charter also lifts the term limits for lawmakers.
In a televised interview, Puno reacted to the statements of Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House constitutional amendments committee, who said they may seek a writ of mandamus from the SC to force the Senate to act on their draft federal charter.
“They cannot force the Senate to join a con-ass (Constitutional Assembly). That is a discretionary power on the part of the Senate,” Puno said. “And I don’t think they can be a subject of writ of mandamus.”
However, he noted the House of Representatives is still free to seek help from the High Court.
Puno also pointed out how the House draft failed to mention the Bangsamoro and Cordillera regions which, for him, is the proposed charter’s “one fatal omission.”
The former top magistrate added problems of identity and peace and order in Mindanao were among the main reasons President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for Federalism in the first place.
“There is a fatal omission on the part of the House version. There is no mention of the Bangsamoro problem. There is no mention of the Cordillera problem,” he said.
“Unless we are able to satisfy these identity-based demands, we’ll always be hounded by this peace and order problem. The worst-case scenario is they may even separate from us,” he warned.
He maintains that Federalism is needed to address a lot of the country’s problems, but noted the committee will not endorse the House draft. Federalism was a key campaign promise of President Duterte who hopes to bring development to the regions and areas away from what he calls “Imperial Manila.”
No ConCom endorsement
Puno also warned the public about the “deficiencies” of a proposed federal charter drafted and approved by the House.
“We agreed not to endorse this House resolution and to inform the public about its defects and deficiencies,” he explained. “They did not create a federal government. They did not create districts. It’s a bogus Federalism… Congress will have a monopoly of power in creating these states.”
He stressed that the lawmakers’ draft charter also adds “lawless violence” as a ground for the declaration of martial law, apart from actual rebellion and public safety, and requires a college degree for those who will run for president, vice president, senator or congressman, unless they have been elected to those positions under the 1987 Constitution.
Resolution of Both Houses 15 also seeks to develop a two-party system where the state will subsidize the political parties.
“The process followed by the House in proposing the change in our Constitution is defective. They were treating the Constitution as if it is a piece of ordinary legislation,” Puno said.
Two opposition House members said the House “rushed” the approval of the federal charter.
During a television interview, Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza said the process that the House is following is “not correct” and even Puno agrees with such view.
“Congressmen just voted on it simply because it was rushed. What I said is ‘this is not the process of crafting a Constitution,’” he said.
He added during the floor deliberations of the federal charter, he was asking on the fast-tracking of the measure and the members of the House did not allow for longer discussions.
“You should allow a lengthy interpellation. If it will take one year, so be it,” he said.
Atienza, however, reiterated that he is in favor of charter change but not how it was being done at the House.
He also said the senators would not push this federal charter version.
“I am happy that we have the Senate this time. Normally, I believe in a unicameral system, but in cases like this, we need a saner, deliberate, slow-thinking, debating body like the Senate,” he declared. “I urged chairman Puno and all of us who believe that this is not the right way of changing it… let us have a Constitutional Convention composed of delegates elected for the purpose of changing the Constitution. I would like to consult the constituents.”
With Hananeel Bordey