BY ROGER M. BALANZA
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has shot down a move earlier pushed by her predecessor, Davao del Norte Respresentative Pantaleon Alvarez, for the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution without the participation of the Senate.
Arroyo, who unseated former Speaker Alvarez in a July 23 coup, on Wednesday, August 1, said she agrees with the Senate that both chambers of Congress should vote separately if it convenes into a constituent assembly (Con-Ass) to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
The Alvarez proposal was highly criticized by Senators.
Arroyo’s position was welcomed on the same day by Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who chairs the Consultative Committee (ConCom) created by President Rodrigo Duterte to draft a Federal Constitution.
According to a report in state-owned news agency PNA, Arroyo agreed on voting separately, noting that she wanted to be able to “move forward” and “be realistic” to finally agree on the manner of voting for Charter Change (Cha-Cha).
“Better to move forward and achieve something rather than be stubborn and achieve nothing. We should move forward and the way to move forward is to agree to voting separately,” Arroyo said.
The Senate has collectively agreed on separate voting, saying a joint vote will be inconsistent with the bicameral nature of the Congress.
Before he was deposed, Alvarez, said the House would proceed with amending the 1987 Constitution even without the Senate’s participation, which irked lawmakers from the Upper House.
Puno, in the PNA report, described Arroyo’s decision to vote separately as “a major roadblock that has been removed.”
“That’s good. That is also my personal opinion when I appeared before the Committee of Senator (Francis) Kiko Pangilinan,” said Puno.
“That’s a major roadblock if that has been removed, so much the better. If it’s not separate voting, the Senate might not agree,” Puno said.
Last July 17, Puno told the Senate that a provision in the draft charter allows the House and Senate to vote separately on charter change.
However, Puno said he also respected the school of thought that the two chambers may vote jointly.
“There are some saying Con-con (constitutional convention) is better, there are some who want a hybrid Con-con but now they are using Con-ass,” Puno explained.
Up to Congress
During his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 23, President Duterte was expected to formally endorse the draft Federal Constitution drafted by Concom to the Congress. However, he did not.
Puno said for him, Duterte’s mention of the new Constitution allowing a shift to a federal system of government in his SONA was already an endorsement in itself.
“For me, what he said about the draft Federal Constitution is enough. What kind of endorsement are we looking for when the next day, he formed an inter-agency group to conduct a massive information drive (on Federalism),” Puno said.
The inter-agency group, which will be led by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, will be in charge of explaining the benefits of Federalism to the country in a massive information drive.
“For me, that’s enough endorsement,” he added.
ConCom member and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. earlier said he was not disappointed since Duterte still had the opportunity to endorse it sometime else.
“Nothing prevents the Pres(ident) from vetting Congressional Action on the matter anytime he wants to do so,” he said.
Pimentel was confident that Duterte would eventually endorse the draft charter since a shift to a federal system of government is among his main thrusts after all.
“The issue is very much alive in the hearts and minds of the believers in the cause. And we know that the Pres(ident) is one of them,” Pimentel said.