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Cha-cha as good as dead

Ninez Cacho-Olivares



Voting separately is a must to get charter change (cha-cha) going, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said.

“The way to move forward is to vote separately. We have to move forward,” the new Speaker added, harking back to her predecessor’s failure to break the Senate and the House’s deadlock on the proposed amendment and changes of the 1987 Constitution through a constituent assembly (con-ass).

But will separate voting be the answer to opening the doors for cha-cha?

Under separate voting, the Senate and the House of Representatives will have its own vote, which if ever accepted by the Senate, at least in constituting itself as a con-ass to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution or draft an entirely new one, would be a miracle as this would entail the drafting of a federal system of government and the many regions that would be turned into states ready for the ratification by the Filipino electorate.

Can separate voting between the House and the Senate succeed in ensuring the shift to federalism?

The Senate—at least a lot of its members—does not appear to be enthused with the idea, with some appearing to see this move by Speaker Arroyo as a trap.

It may well be seen as a trap by many senators, especially those who have a history with Arroyo when she was President.

Her offer of separate voting made Sen. Panfilo Lacson suspicious, thumbing down the Arroyo move, saying: “That’s her statement now, yes. Once we have tied ourselves into adopting a joint resolution for a joint session with the House, there is no guarantee that conditions will not change by then,” he said.

“When that happens, there is no wiggling out of that situation. Like a poor mouse in a mousetrap, we are dead just the same,” he added.

“As far as the Senate is concerned, it’s still a resounding no” (to a con-ass), Lacson was quoted as saying.

The senator added that the proposed con-ass is “as good as dead.”

“As far as the senators are concerned, yes, it’s as good as dead, because we are not adopting any joint resolution that could pave the way for a con-ass,” Lacson said.

Lacson may have a point since what is being reported in media is Speaker Arroyo’s move on separate voting in getting the cooperation of the Senate for a con-ass. However, that move does not seem to be airtight by way of counting the votes of both the Senate and the House, which overpowers the Senate vote, even if voting separately.

Both chambers can vote separately instead of jointly voting. But how will the total vote be counted, especially when the two houses of Congress finally constitute themselves as a constituent assembly, especially when it comes down to voting for changes in the Charter?
A constituent assembly means the formation of one body, which will vote for or against each and every provision in a draft Charter. This means the Senate vote will always be pegged at 23 votes if all members are against or less if some senators go with the House vote. However, the Senate vote will still be pitted against over 200 votes of the House. It’s the House that wins and the Senate that loses because of the sheer uneven numbers.

But say that the Senate vote will be counted separately from the House vote. What this translates to by way of votes, is that while the House votes overwhelmingly for a proposal to shift to federalism and gets the required vote count to pass the proposal, would this not mean that the Senate on a separate vote rejecting overwhelmingly the proposal to shift to federalism that was upheld by the House? This then would make it impossible for the House to get that proposal carried by the con-ass with just the House vote.

It has to be remembered that once a con-ass is constituted, any member of the Senate or House, can propose anything under the sun—including combining the votes which will make the Senate vote negligible and if the con-ass votes overwhelmingly for such a combined vote, no matter what conditions were agreed upon earlier—should an agreement ever be reached—this may be rejected by the con-ass.

So, a House trap it certainly can be for the Senate.

What may be a workable solution to a stand-off on cha-cha between two houses is not to convene as a constituent assembly for cha-cha but to separately come up with a bill calling for a constitutional convention and set elections for the delegates to the con-com.

But even this may not be palatable to the senators, who are already wary of the House moves. But aren’t there more important matters for both Houses to take up, such as the National Budget and the TRAIN 2, to name more important matters, than that shift to a federal system to which Filipinos are clearly unaware of and is untested?

What’s so important about shifting to federalism, since it won’t be a solution to government problems now and in the future, with more or less the same freaking congressmen, many of whom can be bought?

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