‘Senate won’t back joint voting through con-ass’

By Marvin Sy

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will not allow itself to become irrelevant if and when the proposed amendments to the Constitution are taken up by Congress, specifically through a constituent assembly (con-ass).

Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday said he is confident that his colleagues in the upper house will not support any move to have both chambers of Congress vote jointly on amendments to the Constitution through a con-ass since this would render them irrelevant due to the bigger membership of the House of Representatives.

To ensure that the Senate will play an equal role in the process, however, Lacson said he would file a resolution calling on the Senate to constitute itself as a con-ass to take up the proposed amendments to the Constitution. 

Following the provision of the Constitution, Lacson said the Senate would approve the proposed amendments with a vote of three-fourths of its total members or 19 senators.

The House would then be urged to do the same and just like in the regular process of approving bills, Lacson said both chambers would hold bicameral conference committee meetings to come up with a reconciled version and have each chamber ratify this.

Whatever amendments are approved would then be presented to the electorate for its concurrence through a plebiscite.

The moves to amend the Constitution for the primary objective of shifting the form of government from unitary to federal have been accelerated due in large part to the prodding of the allies of President Duterte at the House.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III has supported the efforts to accelerate the process and will file his own bill calling on Congress to constitute itself as a con-ass to amend the Constitution.

Pimentel emphasized that the Senate and the House would be voting separately under con-ass.

Lacson warned, though, that the proposal of Pimentel, while saying that voting would be done separately, could easily be questioned before the Supreme Court by any member of the House or even an ordinary taxpayer.

“What happens then if the SC rules that we have to vote jointly? Then we become irrelevant. Some of my colleagues said that we might as well say goodbye,” Lacson said.

“For me, if we affix our signatures in that resolution to convene a joint session with the lower house, it is as if we will also sign our own death warrants. We would end up killing our own institution which is the Senate,” he added.

Lacson recalled how the framers of the 1987 Constitution wrote the provision on how Congress, with three-fourths of its members, could introduce amendments to the Charter under the assumption that Congress would be a unicameral body.

When the decision was made for Congress to be a bicameral body, Lacson said that the constitutional commission did not correct the provision on voting.

With this background, Lacson said it was clear that the intent was for the Senate and the House to vote separately.

“So, if the Senate will enter into a joint session and the computation is three-fourths of all the members of Congress, meaning lower and upper houses, then what will be the role of the Senate? We will not have a voice there,” Lacson said.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said there is still a debate on whether there is a need to amend the Constitution now and the mode by which this would be done.

            – With Mayen Jaymalin

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