The House of Representatives’ effort to change the 1987 Constitution got off to an “embarrassing” start on Wednesday when all rules and procedures of the Philippine Congress on the formation of a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) have been disregarded.
The infraction did not escape the eyes of the senators who took no part in the meeting that was generally for the members of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, which debated on whether it was already acting as a Con-Ass to the consternation of some of their members and their counterparts in the Senate.
“We really would want to touch the Constitution? Then let’s make sure all rules and procedures are followed, not bent! It’s embarrassing!” Senate President Vicente Sotto III declared.
Senators also schooled the members of the House, saying a Con-Ass can only convene when the sessions have resumed.
“Congress is on a break, the only way a Con-Ass can be initiated and considered to sit as one is if it’s done in plenary and session assembled. Resumption is still on Monday. That’s a simple committee hearing they are conducting!” Sotto exclaimed.
This was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, explaining that Congress rules only allow the conduct of committee hearings during breaks.
“With all due respect to my good friend Congressman (Alfredo) Garbin, Congress is in recess. So, I’m not sure how there was plenary action on their resolution to form a constituent assembly. Our rules only allow committee hearings to take place during the break. So, he may be discussing approval on committee level,” Zubiri said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, cited Article XVII, Section 1 of the Constitution, pointing out that Congress is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate and any Constitutional amendment should be done by both Houses.
“Last time we heard, the Congress of the Philippines is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives,” he said. “May they be forgiven because they do not know what they are doing.”
Sotto has also proposed that the one-liner amendment to the Constitution being pushed by House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco be put to a plebiscite which could be timed with the 2022 national elections.
Velasco said the line “as may be provided by law” should be part of the amendments to be proposed in the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
Sotto said only through a plebiscite that notions on the possible efforts by the elected officials to extend their terms would be dispelled.
It would also mean that the House’s attempt to forge a Charter change is dead in the water even before it could sail.
Garbin’s push to declare the committee hearing as a Con-Ass also did not help the House’s cause.
The panel was supposed to debate on the so-called “economic charter change” which seeks to lift restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution. Velasco believes this would pave the way for faster economic recovery and attract more foreign investments.