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House approves constituent assembly

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 23:32:00 06/02/2009

Filed Under: Charter change, Politics

MANILA, Philippines – Debates dragged for hours but it took only a few seconds for the House of Representatives to approve a resolution that would convene Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution.

With the “ayes” registering a louder vote than the “nays,” the House of Representatives late Tuesday approved House Resolution 1109 convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Even as all the interpellators have yet to speak, Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City Representative Didagen Dilangalen made a motion to stop the interpellation period and go on voting. This was immediately seconded and approved.

Members of the minority registered their objection.

Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla said the country witnessed a "simple tyranny of the majority" and called the chamber "the worst Congress in the annals of Philippine history."

“I believe in democracy, but this tyranny,” South Cotabato Representative Darlene Antonino-Custodio said.

"Have we no shame? Let us stop this farce immediately," Bukidnon Representative Teofisto Guingona III said.

“We oppose this, this charade… Let us amend the Constitution after the term of President Arroyo. That is the time to amend the Constitution of the Philippines. The best way to amend the Constitution is by constitutional convention,” said former Speaker and Pangasinan Representative Jose de Venecia Jr.

With the passage Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson likened the country to a woman fighting off a rapist, saying “Huwag po kuya [Please don’t, sir].”

“Let us not gang rape our Constitution,” he said.

Bayan Muna party list Representative Teodoro Casiño said one of the sponsors of the resolution had admitted on the floor that the "whereas clause" in the resolution that prohibits the term extension of the incumbent president and vice president, senators, congressmen, mayors and other elected officials whose term will expire in 2010, and that there would be elections in 2010 was "not binding."

Gabriela partylist Representative Liza Maza asked one of the sponsors, Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr., it was possible under the resolution to postpone the 2010 elections.

"Everything is possible, but it depends on the sound judgment of our colleagues," Barzaga said.

La Union Representative Victor Ortega also echoed the same view, saying that they would rely on "trust" basis in implementing the “whereas clause.”

Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez said the majority pledged to have an exhaustive discussion in plenary of the resolution.

"If we cannot trust them [majority] on this very small pledge, how can the people trust the members of this Congress as constituent assembly," Golez said.

Representative Luz Ilagan of Gabriela party list called the proceedings a "night of ignominy" where the administration allies once again used their numbers to push their agenda.

Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III said he voted against the resolution because Congress does not need to pass one in its use of its inherent legislative powers. He added he is also against the "crass" manifestation that the House alone can act in amending the Constituion without engaging the Senate.

Proponents of the measure are in quandary if the House can convene as an assembly on its own. Several lawmakers, including those form the majority bloc, said that the Senate should be part of the process of the constituent assembly.

“It always takes two to dance the Cha cha,” Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia said during the earlier part of the debates.

By his interpretation, Garcia said HR 1109 was “just an invitation to both Houses to convene in order to propose amendments to or revise the Constitution.”

La Union Representative Victor Ortega, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, echoed that the Senate could not be ignored in the process of convening a constituent assembly.

Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte said he drafted the resolution, but Speaker Prospero Nograles was its main author.

Villafuerte had withdrawn his signature to the resolution, saying that there was no more time to rewrite the Constitution with barely a year to go before the May 2010 elections.

“I have withdrawn my signature and I’m not supporting this resolution anymore,” Vilalfuerte said, noting that “there’s a group in the majority that’s undermining the resolution they are sponsoring.”

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora questioned the haste with which it was being discussed in plenary, with only two session days left and with other key legislation pending for passage.

“Why the short cut? Why not go for the long haul, for the harder route? Why not eschew the easy path and make the amendments to the Constitution as important as the role of the committee on constitutional amendments?” Zamora said.

In the resolution, it was interpreted that voting should be done upon the three-fourths of “all the members of Congress, not three-fourths of each House voting separately.”

Proponents of this measure had hoped that this would prompt someone to question it before the Supreme Court, so that the tribunal could decide whether voting by the two chambers of Congress should be done jointly or separately.

“So what is the point of all of this, if there is no justiciable controversy… if you agree with me that the Senate is part of the process?” Zamora said.

Proponents of the measure are still in quandary if the House can convene as an assembly on its own. Several lawmakers, including those form the majority bloc, said that the Senate should be part of the process of the constituent assembly.

Earlier in the day, administration allies vowed to use their numbers to have HR 1109 approved on Tuesday’s session and will study the option if the House could convene into a constituent assembly even without the Senate.

Interviewed after presiding over a caucus of the majority, Nograles said the bloc would pass HR 1109 and then study their next moves.

“After we pass it we will have to study our next moves, study, legal (study),” he said.

Taking up the constituent assembly resolution was one of the agreements within the merged Lakas-Kampi-CMD party, despite the withdrawal of support of Villafuerte, who recently resigned as Kampi president.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is aware of the plan of the congressmen, the Speaker said.

“Of course, I will not deny that the President just listened, she did not say anything, bahala kayo [It’s up to you],” he added.

The constituent assembly resolution was approved in an emergency meeting of the committee on constitutional amendments Monday so it could be referred to the rules committee for floor deliberation Tuesday.

Nograles said HR 1109 would be taken up first before House Resolution 737, which seeks specific amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution, because it only needed the vote by a majority while the latter resolution required three-fourths vote of all members of Congress since it was introducing specific amendments.

As to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) extension, Nograles acknowledged that the pressure was now on the House after the Senate passed it on third reading Monday night.

He said the House just received a copy of the 78-page document and was still studying it.

“The options are basically two: first, is the easier option to adopt their version and it’s finished. The second is to make another version and go on bicam [bicameral committee meetings] over the holidays,” Nograles said.

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