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

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

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

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 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

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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