MANILA, SEPTEMBER 16, 2008 (STAR) By Christina Mendez - Senators warned the House of Representatives yesterday that any move to amend the Constitution without their participation would be void.

Based on Speaker Prospero Nograles’ theory that Congress can enact laws to repeal specific provisions in the Constitution, the senators said the Charter requires that the Senate and the House vote separately when passing a law.

Therefore the Senate and the House must also vote separately when proposing amendments to the Constitution or calling a constitutional convention, the senators added.

Article 17, Section 3 provides: “The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”

On the other hand, Article 6, Section 27 (1) states: “Every bill passed by the Congress shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President. If he approves the same he shall sign it; otherwise, he shall veto it and return the same with his objections to the House where it originated, which shall enter the objections at large in its Journal and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such reconsideration, two-thirds of all the Members of such House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of all the Members of that House, it shall become a law. In all such cases, the votes of each House shall be determined by yeas or nays, and the names of the Members voting for or against shall be entered in its Journal. The President shall communicate his veto of any bill to the House where it originated within 30 days after the date of receipt thereof, otherwise, it shall become a law as if he had signed it.”

Sen. Manuel Roxas II said the House move to amend the Constitution will not prosper without the Senate’s participation.

“Malinaw na malinaw na ang intensyon ay kasama ang dalawang kapulungan ng Kamara ng Kongreso, at ito ay voting separately,” he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, Senate committee on constitutional amendments, codes and laws chairman, said Nograles does not know what he is saying.

“The numbers are given to the House because they have the constituency,” he said.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said the issue of Charter change begins and ends with Congress.

“They initiate it, and if that is the decision of Congress and they are the representatives of the people, then that is what will happen,” he said.

It is important to find out the reasons behind the move to amend the Constitution before making any judgment, Golez said.

At the House, President Arroyo’s party decided yesterday to support the move to bypass the Senate in a new initiative at Charter change (Cha-cha).

The decision was arrived at in a meeting presided over by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), president, and Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa.

Kampi is the second largest group in the House after Lakas, of which Speaker Nograles is president.

Antipolo Rep. Roberto Puno told The STAR he and 34 other party members who attended the meeting were unanimous in supporting the move of Nograles to raise to the Supreme Court the issue of whether the House can do a Cha-cha by itself or in cooperation with the Senate.

“It was felt that this issue be resolved once and for all,” he said.

Puno said many in the House are of the view that they can propose amendments to the Constitution without the participation of the Senate provided that it obtains 195 votes, or three-fourths of the combined membership of the two chambers.

“There is the argument that the Constitution requires only that proposed amendments be approved by a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress,” he said.

“It does not say three-fourths of the House and three-fourths of the Senate.”

Puno, who is not a lawyer, is a brother of Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who chairs Kampi.

House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor said the Nograles resolution “may or may not be sent to the Senate.”

“What we intend to do is that before we vote on this measure, we would invite senators to have a joint session with us specifically to consider this proposed amendment,” he said.

“And since senators have been refusing to sit down with us unless and until the issues of meeting and voting jointly or separately are resolved, some congressmen may opt to bring this matter to the Supreme Court.”

However, his personal view is that the House cannot bypass the Senate on Cha-cha, Defensor said.

Nograles said his resolution, if approved by a three-fourths vote of Congress, could “serve as the basis of raising a point of constitutional inquiry before the Supreme Court.”

“If the Supreme Court says that Congress can enact laws that in effect will repeal specific provisions in the Constitution, we might be able to avoid this protracted legal and constitutional wrangling on how we can attune the Constitution to the new challenges confronting our country,” he said.

“There are schools of thought that Congress can actually amend specific provisions of the Constitution without going through the various methods provided under the Charter,” he added.

The two principal ways of amending the Charter are through Congress converting itself into a constituent assembly to propose amendments or Congress calling for a constitutional convention.

The third method is through a people’s initiative. In the first two methods, the involvement of the Senate and the House of Representatives is required.

Kampi members also agreed to sign Resolution 737 introduced by Nograles last week, which seeks to amend Article XII Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution “to allow the acquisition by foreign corporations and associations and the transfer or conveyance thereto, of alienable public and private lands.”

However, before affixing their signatures, Kampi members authorized Villafuerte to suggest some changes in the language of the Nograles resolution so that the objective of the House in forcing the Cha-cha issue would be clarified.

Former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., prime mover of the administration’s failed Cha-cha initiative in 2006, said the principal purpose of Cha-cha is to allow Mrs. Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010 either as president or prime minister under a parliamentary government.

On the other hand, the United Opposition (UNO) said yesterday bypassing the Senate in the latest Cha-cha initiative indicates Mrs. Arroyo’s final push for power in 2010.

Adel Tamano, UNO spokesman, said Mrs. Arroyo’s allies who are advocating for Cha-cha “either have a very low learning curve or they have become too insensitive to public opinion.”

“It is obvious that the proponent, Speaker Nograles, a bar topnotcher who knows that there is a zero percent chance that the initiative will be successful even if it hurdles the Supreme Court, is being arm-twisted by Malacañang to push for Charter change and to toe the party line or else be removed from the speakership,” he said.

Tamano said Cha-cha for the Filipino people, whose majority are suffering from poverty and hunger at present, is farthest from their mind.

“To the average Filipino, burdened by the worsening economy, amending the Charter is farthest from his concerns and priorities,” he said.

Tamano said UNO would oppose any move by Mrs. Arroyo and her allies to amend the Constitution before the 2010 elections.

“More important than the politics of the issue is the economic of it — the billions of pesos that will be used in pushing for Charter change and conducting a national plebiscite would be much better used for social welfare activities during these economically difficult times,” he said.

Meanwhile, militant party-list representatives said landless farmers and tenants should be given priority over foreigners in the disposition of alienable lands. — With Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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