Gloria Arroyo files resolution on separate con-ass voting

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Gloria Arroyo files resolution on separate con-ass voting
Arroyo and four colleagues introduced the resolution in the wake of suspicions raised by some senators that the House would insist on joint voting if they agree to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to work on Cha-cha for federalism.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday filed a resolution calling for separate voting by the House of Representatives and the Senate on Charter change (Cha-cha).

Arroyo and four colleagues introduced the resolution in the wake of suspicions raised by some senators that the House would insist on joint voting if they agree to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to work on Cha-cha for federalism.

Her co-authors are Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr., Rep. Vicente Veloso of Leyte and chair of the constitutional amendments committee, Rep. Arthur Yap of Bohol and Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. of Ako Bicol party-list, who is a deputy of Minority Leader Danilo Suarez.

President Duterte wants his congressional allies to finish writing a federal constitution in time for the May 2019 elections so that the plebiscite for the ratification of the new charter could be held with the balloting to save on cost.

In January this year, the House passed a resolution calling on the two chambers of Congress to convene as a con-ass to rewrite the Constitution.

In Resolution No. 2056, Arroyo and her four colleagues said, “There is an urgent need for the House of Representatives and the Senate to convene as a constituent assembly to consider proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.”

They said the House is taking the same position as the Senate that the two chambers should vote separately on Cha-cha.

In arguing for separate voting, senators said joint voting would render them irrelevant as House members could easily outvote them on any proposed constitutional amendment.

At the same time, Arroyo stopped Veloso’s committee from drafting its own version of a new constitution.

“It’s a waste of time. That should be done by the assembly,” she told committee members during yesterday’s meeting of the panel, which she attended.

She took advantage of the presence of former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. to appeal to him to help convince senators to convene with the House as a con-ass.

Pimentel later told reporters that he would heed Arroyo’s plea and talk to his former Senate colleagues, including his son Aquilino lll, a former Senate president like him, who is also for federalism like him. The elder Pimentel is the original advocate of federalism.

Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, another federalism proponent, said he has talked to at least six senators on con-ass. 

“They don’t want to sit with us. They suspect that we will insist on joint voting. We will move forward to push for the shift to the federal system, which we believe would lead to the development of the regions, and let them answer to the people,” he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said with Arroyo’s assurance on separate voting, “there is no reason for senators to hold on to their suspicions.”

“We should respect each other and accept each other’s word, especially the word of the Speaker. Suspicion will get us nowhere,” said another Arroyo ally, Rep. Michael Romero of party-list group 1-Pacman.

He said President Duterte’s federalism advocacy “will not move unless senators overcome their fear of the unknown.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the resolution, once transmitted to the Senate, would be referred to the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes.

A trap for the Senate?

In response to the resolution filed by Arroyo, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon yesterday called on the House to give up on its efforts to convene a con-ass to amend the Constitution.

“The House should give up on convening Congress into a con-ass to do Cha-cha. There is simply no time in the 17th Congress,” Drilon said. 

“And the possibility of (a) making the Senate irrelevant through joint voting and (b) a no-el (no-election) scenario, generate mistrust in the process,” he added.

Sen. Grace Poe echoed the statement of Drilon about the senators’ distrust in the process.

She said there is no guarantee that the pronouncements of Arroyo about the Senate and House voting separately in a con-ass would be respected once the Senate agrees to participate in the process.

Poe also said there is nothing that would prevent any individual from filing a petition before the Supreme Court to question the need for Congress to vote separately on amendments to the Constitution.

Once the Senate has agreed to participate in the process, it would be trapped if ever the Supreme Court rules that voting would be done jointly.

The younger Pimentel has welcomed the statement of Arroyo because this settles the question about procedure in Charter change.

But he said it would take a lot more to convince his colleagues to participate in a con-ass because many of them do not trust Arroyo.  –  With Marvin Sy

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