House solons split over separate voting for 'Cha-cha'

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The House of Representatives. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 19) — Members of the House of Representatives are divided over whether Congress should vote separately to revise the Constitution.

House constitutional amendments committee chair Roger Mercado believes the lower house may convene as a Constituent Assembly, even without the Senate.

"We can do that because it is our mandate in the Constitution that Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths, can already amend or revise our Constitution," Mercado said on Thursday. "But if the Senate will join us, much better."

The House of Representatives approved on Tuesday a resolution that will allow Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly and to revise the charter to make way for a federal republic form of government.

READ: House OKs resolution to convene Con-Ass

Senators, however, want the voting on charter change done separately.

Sen. Ping Lacson on Wednesday warned that he will move for the expulsion of any of his colleagues who will join the House-led Constituent Assembly.

READ: Lacson wants to expel senators who attend House con-ass

But Mercado said charter change is too important to delay, despite the Senate's objection to joint voting.

He said the Senate may be given two weeks to concur with the House resolution.

"We cannot also be made hostage by the Senate," he said. "We already passed the concurrent resolution to the Senate for their concurrence. If they will not concur, then we will have to proceed."

Mercado also said the House may approve and refer the proposed changes to the charter directly to the people in a plebiscite, effectively bypassing the Senate.

Talk to Senate first

But for Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza, voting on the proposed amendments must be done separately.

He said it would be best for House leaders to talk to the senators first and settle the issue on voting.

"Bicameral system tayo," he said on Thursday. "Gumagawa tayo ng batas, dalawang level ang kailangang approval. 'Di naman joint voting paggawa ng batas."

[Translation: We use a bicameral system. When we make laws, there must be two levels of approval. Lawmaking doesn't go through joint voting]

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said on Thursday that he and his colleagues will oppose the move for a house-led constituent assembly if the issue is discussed in plenary.

"The proponents' reading on the role of Congress in the amendment of the Constitution is self-serving and compartmentalized, just to fit their agenda," he said. "We will definitely oppose this attempt to bastardize our democratic process."

Don't rush it

For Vice President Leni Robredo, changing the Constitution should be discussed thoroughly.

"Ang Saligang Batas, ang intensyon nito, ito ang permanenteng framework na ginagalawan nating lahat," she said in a Thursday statement. "Hindi siya puwedeng palitan nang basta-basta. Hindi siya puwedeng madaliin."

[Translation: The intention of the Constitution is to serve as the permanent framework that we follow. You can't just change it. You can't rush it.]

Robredo added that she would prefer a Constitutional Convention than a Constituent Assembly for charter change.

In a Constitutional Convention, delegates may be chosen by the people in a special election.

"[F]rom the very start, parating doon ako sa Constitutional (Convention) kasi binibigyan doon iyong mga tao ng pagkakataon na pumili kung sino iyong magre-represent sa kanila," she said. "Pangalawa, iyong mga Constitutional Commission members, nakatutok talaga sa pag-frame ng Saligang Batas, at hindi siya nakahalo sa ibang trabaho."

[Translation: From the very start, I've always supported Constitutional Convention because it gives the people the chance to choose who would represent them. Second, the Constitutional Commission members are focused on framing the Constitution and don't do other jobs.]

CNN Philippines Digital Producer VJ Bacungan contributed to this report.