House determined to bypass Senate on Cha-cha

By Jess Diaz and Aurea Calica Updated December 10, 2008 12:00 AM

The cat is out of the bag: President Arroyo’s congressmen allies intend to bypass senators on Cha-cha.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, principal author of a draft resolution asking the Senate and the House to convene as a con-ass (constituent assembly) to propose Charter amendments, made this clear Monday night during an unscheduled plenary debate on Cha-cha.

Villafuerte is president of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party Mrs. Arroyo founded in 1997 when she was senator and which has collected more than 160 congressmen’s signatures on his resolution.

The debate between him and Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez was prompted by Villafuerte’s privilege speech in which he defended his con-ass measure from mounting criticisms.

“We will invite them (senators), but if they don’t show up, that’s not our fault,” he said.

He said individual senators could participate without the consent of the Senate as an institution “because in a con-ass, there is no institutional participation by the Senate and the House.”

He added that the Charter does not require the Senate and the House to vote separately or for each chamber to obtain a three-fourths vote of all its members.

Golez said Villafuerte’s position is “most shocking and most creative interpretation of the Constitution.”

“It negates the fact that our Congress is a bicameral body. It consists of two chambers. One chamber cannot exist without the other,” he said.

He said there are at least two other provisions of the Constitution requiring the vote of a “majority of members of Congress, such as in the grant of tax exemption and of concurrence to a presidential amnesty proclamation.”

But Villafuerte said that there is actually no conflict between his and Golez’s interpretations of the pertinent provisions of the Charter.

He said the two provisions Golez cited refer to the “exercise of legislative power” by Congress, while his own position refers to the “exercise of constituent power or the power to propose Charter amendments.”

Villafuerte claimed that the 1986 Constitutional Commission that wrote the Constitution made Congress a bicameral assembly when it is performing legislative functions and a unicameral or one-chamber body when it is doing Cha-cha.

In his privilege speech, Villafuerte also criticized Nograles for his “confusing” stand on Cha-cha and for “putting the cart before the horse” by filing Resolution 737.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez defended Nograles, saying Villafuerte was “misinformed.”

“The position of the Speaker is very clear. He wants con-ass but he is also keeping an open mind for other modes just in case the Supreme Court will shoot it down,” he said.

Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, chairman of House foreign affairs committee, meanwhile called on his colleagues not to ignore the Senate.

“We can never take off if we don’t reckon with the Senate. We should sit down with the Senate and agree with the constitutional convention mode,” Cuenco told the House committee on constitutional amendments.

Nene, Joker hit House initiative

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and administration Sen. Joker Arroyo dismissed yesterday as unconstitutional an initiative in the House of Representatives to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution through ordinary legislative procedures or by treating them as ordinary bills.

Pimentel said the proposed tack, contained in Resolution No. 737 filed by Speaker Prospero Nograles, was an “invention” of the congressmen, while Arroyo said it was “nonsensical.”

Resolution 737 seeks to amend Article XII Sections 2 and 3 of the 1987 Constitution “to allow the acquisition by foreign corporations and associations, and the transfer or conveyance thereto, of alienable public lands and private lands.”

“Forget it, otherwise they’re only opening themselves to ridicule (because it shows) that they don’t know what the constitutional requirements are for changing the Constitution,” Pimentel said. “They are members of Congress, nakakahiya (it’s shameful),” he said.

“You cannot amend the Constitution, not a single period or comma can be changed without a resolution to effect the change either by way of constitutional convention or constituent assembly or popular initiative. There is no third or fourth method of amending the Constitution,” he added.

“They are really wrong. Maybe they are too desperate already,” he said.

Arroyo said the congressmen kept on “beating a dead horse” even if they were aware that it would not get a single vote in the Senate.

“The fatal flaw in everything that the House does is the idea that it is as if the Senate does not exist. It just cannot be done. So right from the start, it won’t prosper,” Arroyo said. “How can you ignore the Senate?”

“Everything they say is magnified in media even if it’s the most nonsensical thing,” Arroyo said.

“Nobody’s bothered here. We’re not bothered one wit by what’s happening in the House because they know nothing will happen,” he said.

Arroyo said the focus now should be on the economic crisis.

“We’d rather that we don’t amend it or not touch it at all because the end is worse than the remedy,” Arroyo said.

He said now is the best time to build a con-con so that delegates need not be part of any political party, unlike if the selection of delegates is done simultaneously with the 2010 polls.

Arroyo said the president is unlikely to benefit from con-con because her term is only until 2010.

Sen. Francis Escudero also said Mrs. Arroyo should categorically state her position on Cha-cha.

Escudero, who now heads the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, said without a categorical position on Cha-cha, Mrs. Arroyo has indirectly been encouraging her allies to insist on Cha-cha to the detriment of Filipinos.

Meanwhile, opposition groups accused the Arroyo administration of trying to scare away potential participants in the Dec. 12 inter-faith rally against Cha-cha.

“Filipinos may disagree on a number of things, but opposition to Charter change under the GMA administration is an issue that unites and cuts across all political colors, religious groups and sectors,” United Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano said. – With Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sheila Crisostomo and Delon Porcalla

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