Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the method used by the House of Representatives in its attempt to amend economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution is unconstitutional.
Puno described the tack taken by congressmen as flawed because the House treated a resolution seeking to introduce amendments to certain economic provisions like an ordinary legislative proposal.
He explained that provisions of the Charter can be changed through a Constitutional Convention or through a joint session of the House and Senate.
Puno submitted to the House a position paper wherein he argued the need for the two houses of Congress to convene in a joint assembly when exercising the power to propose amendments to the Constitution.
A joint resolution authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. seeks to amend certain economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, particularly Articles XII, XIV and XVI. It was approved by the House on third and final reading last month.
“It is better to discuss the proposed amendments to the economic provisions of our Constitution in a Constitutional Convention. Their implications are far-reaching and potentially divisive. They should not be rushed by Congress whose members are preoccupied by the Bangsamoro problem and their bids for reelection,” Puno said.
“Moreover, the mode being followed by both Houses [of Congress]to bring about the amendments is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court,” he added.
Puno argued that Section 1, Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution, which provides procedures for its amendments or revision, does not allow the House to deliberate proposed amendments to the Charter without convening a joint assembly with the senators
“Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: 1. Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or 2. A Constitutional Convention,” the Constitution states.
“[It] will attract a strong constitutional challenge. It is too simplistic to argue that they are not literally prohibited by Article XVII, Section 1. The unequivocal history of Section 1 rejects them,” the retired chief magistrate said.
“Its history reveals that this section was written in anticipation that a unicameral legislature would be established in the final draft of the 1987 Constitution. Contrary to expectation, a bicameral legislature was chosen by the commissioners. Unfortunately, the Committee on Amendments and Transitory provision forgot to rewrite Article XVII, Section 1, and adopt the time-tested procedure of amending or revising a Constitution where the legislature is bicameral in character,” he explained.
“In bicameral legislatures, the traditional mode of amending or revising a Constitution is for both Houses to convene in joint assembly and to vote separately. These requirements are omitted when the legislature is unicameral for self-evident reasons. The absence of the phrases ‘joint assembly’ and ‘voting separately’ in Section 1 of Article XVII does not justify any suggestion that Congress need not meet jointly. Nor does it justify the idea that Congress need not vote separately. To repeat, when the Constitutional Commissioners, thru its Committee on Amendments crafted Section 1, they had the impression that a unicameral legislature would be adopted in the final draft of the 1987 Constitution. Unfortunately, it was not adopted and instead a bicameral legislature was established,” Puno said.
“We need to have a more profound understanding of the necessity of a ‘joint assembly’ in a bicameral legislature. The power to propose amendments or to revise the Constitution is known as the constituent power of Congress. In a bicameral legislature, it belongs to both of its Houses. It cannot be exercised unilaterally by one House alone. The constituent power is granted to both Houses as institutions,” he added.
“It’s a latent power vested in both Houses and to trigger its use, either House, as institutions, must invite each other to gather together in joint assembly to propose amendments to or revision of the Constitution. The invitation must be acted upon favorably or unfavorably by either House as an institution, at the very least, by a majority of its members. In deciding to act favorably or unfavorably on the invitation, the two Houses exercise their constituent power, which is exclusively lodged on them by the Constitution. The exclusiveness of this power underlines its importance,” Puno said.