Senators to House: Let us take lead on Cha-cha

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Senators to House: Let us take lead  on Cha-cha
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on January 22, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines —  The House of Representatives should let the Senate take the lead on economic Charter change, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday, as he urged Congress to just “adopt the Senate resolution” as earlier agreed with Speaker Martin Romualdez “so that there will no longer be any animosity and uncertainty.”

Zubiri also thanked President Marcos for reiterating his trust in the Senate to lead the deliberations on easing restrictive constitutional provisions on public utilities, educational institutions and advertising.

“I thank the President for having trust and confidence in the Senate to lead the Charter change process. We will do our best to be transparent and focus on non-controversial economic provisions,” Zubiri said.

Asked if the President’s message is meant for the House members to stop supporting the gathering of signatures for a people’s initiative, Zubiri said: “As far as I’m concerned, the people’s initiative is (dead in) the water.”

For his part, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said the House should “heed the statement of the President” to defer to the Senate’s Charter change deliberations.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian hoped the President’s statement would end the word war over Charter change.

“The President has spoken, that the Senate should take the lead. This bickering will not get us anywhere,” Gatchalian said.

“We thank the President for clarifying it, and it’s clear that he trusts the Senate,” Senate majority leader Joel Villanueva added.

Estrada also questioned the House’s Charter change resolution for its provisions on voting jointly that would make the House outnumber the Senate in the vote.

“We are very supportive, but not with the Resolution of Both Houses No. 7, which says that we have to vote jointly. We have to vote separately. Because the essence of bicameralism will not be enforced if that’s the case,” Estrada said.

Though the House’s RBH-7 has the exact provisions for an economic Charter change as the Senate’s RBH-6, it differed on the manner of voting.

The House resolution said Congress can vote on the constitutional amendments by “three-fourths of all its members,” which means that the House and Senate should vote jointly.

The Senate resolution, meanwhile, has the caveat of “each House voting separately.”

Marathon hearings

The House of Representatives will convene its committee of the whole on Feb. 26 and is set to hold three hearings every week to meet its target of finishing RBH-7 – a replica of Senate’s RBH-6 on economic Charter change – before Holy Week.

House majority leader Manuel Jose Dalipe said the chamber will be holding three hearings every week – on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – when resource persons ranging from foreign investors, business chambers, economists, small businesses and members of the academe will be invited to share their wisdom with regards to constitutional amendments.

The House was supposed to begin deliberating RBH-7 last Wednesday, but this was reset due to the unavailability of some resource persons, according to Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, senior vice chair of the House appropriations committee.

“Some of our resource persons have been here back and forth, and we’ll be inviting them for the nth time. The plan is to hold three hearings per week. We’re so focused on trying to help this country, especially in amending the restrictive economic provisions,” Dalipe said.

“This is upon the orders of the President, that the Senate take the lead and we follow suit, this is it. We’ll try to discuss this exhaustively. We’re doing a short cut. We’re doing it thrice a week so we can address the questions of all House members. That’s how serious we are,” he added.

House deputy majority leader Janette Garin on Tuesday moved to convene the House into a committee of the whole. No one from the plenary objected, but the leadership has decided to postpone it for next week.

Prayer rally

As a sign of vigilance against attempts to amend the Constitution, Caritas Philippines executive director Fr. Antonio Labiao Jr. called on the public to participate in the prayer rally and protest action against Charter change today at the Plaza Roma in Intramuros, Manila.

Caritas Philippines serves as the social arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“We are appealing to the public that they join our activity set on Feb. 22, 2024, to show our solidarity as a church community that is coming together for prayer,” Labiao said in an interview with Radio Veritas.

The prayer rally, organized by the newly-formed group Koalisyon Laban sa ChaCha: Simbahan at Komunidad Laban Sa ChaCha (SiKLab), would begin at 8 a.m. at Plaza Roma.

SiKLab is made up of 40 sectoral groups including Caritas Philippines, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace, Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan and the Conference of Major Superiors in the Philippines.

More urgent

Lawmakers should prioritize discussing wage hike bills than amending provisions of the 1987 Constitution, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said yesterday.

Bayan secretary general Raymond Palatino lashed out at the House of Representatives for prioritizing Charter change but is slow to act on proposals for wage hike in the private sector workers.

“It reveals their priorities and indifference to the plight of workers,” Palatino said.

The initiative of the Senate which approved on third and final reading a P100 minimum wage hike for workers in the private sector will not move forward unless Marcos and his economic managers change their earlier pronouncement that there will be no wage hikes in 2024, Palatino added.

He said Marcos’ anti-labor policies and his Cha-cha proposal will be among the issues to be tackled in the commemoration of the 1986 EDSA people power revolution this Sunday.

The government should focus on pressing issues such as widespread environmental degradation instead of any efforts to amend the Constitution, an alliance advocating for environmental protection said.

Koalisyon Isalbar ti Pintas ti La Union (KIPLU) chair Crisanto Palabay said that important issues like environmental degradation, climate crisis, hunger and widespread poverty must take precedence over constitutional changes. –  Delon Porcalla, Emmanuel Tupas, Evelyn Macairan, Jun Elias

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