Ex-chief justices, charter framers: Congress should vote separately on charter change

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — Senators and congressmen should vote separately if they convene into a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution.

This was the consensus of a group of resource persons composed of former chief justices and framers of the 1987 Constitution, when asked on Wednesday during the Senate hearing on proposals for charter change.

"While there is a split opinion on whether we should amend the Constitution or not…there is unanimity of all resource persons that we should vote separately," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

The senator was referring to the statements of former Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr., Reynato Puno, and former Senate President Nene Pimentel.

Davide, who was part of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, opposed any move to amend or revise the charter.

"There's absolutely no need for it," he said.

Should charter change push through, however, he said Congress should vote as two separate institutions.

"This is because the power to propose amendments is given not to a unicameral body but to a bicameral body," he said.

Both Pimentel and Puno also agreed that the Senate and House of Representatives should vote separately, even if they convene in a joint session to tackle proposed changes.

The 17th Congress is composed of 23 senators and 294 congressmen.

Doubting the House

Davide further warned charter change can easily be railroaded by the Lower House to make way for federalism, a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte.

He was responding to concerns raised by Senator Risa Hontiveros that the House of Representatives is dominated by the President's allies.

"We can't expect much....It can easily be railroaded by those in power in the Lower House," he said, adding that he doubts if the supermajority could hold thorough deliberations on a matter the party itself had only considered to be a platform.

He said many lawmakers jumped ship to PDP-Laban after the 2016 elections.

Pimentel said freedoms should not be set aside for charter change. "Remember that we are a democracy. Do not allow a partisan democracy to curtail that freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Constitution itself."

Drilon noted how the House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed a resolution for a constituent assembly, a move that some lawmakers claim was done "in haste."

"In effect you are abolishing the Senate as an institution if we proceed on the premise of joint voting," Drilon said.

In an interview with reporters, Drilon said all senators agreed to vote separately on constitutional amendments.

One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna, said disagreements on the Congress' voting method should not hamper efforts to amend the charter.