The House panel tackling proposed amendments to “restrictive” economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution is sitting as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), House Committee on Constitutional Amendments Chairman Alfredo Garbin Jr. declared on Wednesday.
His statement was quickly opposed by some lawmakers, including senators.
“We are sitting as a Constituent Assembly, exercising our constituent power,” Garbin said during the resumption of deliberations on Wednesday to tackle Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 2, seeking to ease restrictions on foreign ownership and management of lands, public utilities, educational institutions and mass media companies.
Garbin defined Con-Ass as “a body authorized by the Constitution for the purpose of proposing amendment or revision to the Constitution.”
“When we dealt with or proposed amendment to the Constitution, we are sitting as a Constituent Assembly. Every time we dealt with proposing amendments to the Constitution or revising the Constitution, we are sitting as a Constituent Assembly exercising our constituent power apart from our legislative power,” he explained.
Committee Vice Chairman Lorenz Defensor supported Garbin’s position, who said no formal act was needed to open deliberations and for the committee to act as a Con-Ass.
“Wala pong kailangan na (There is no need for any) legislative act. It may have a similar procedure, similar to that of legislating a bill but the powers exercised by this body are already constituent powers a Constituent assembly on the part of the House of Representatives,” he added.
But some lawmakers disagreed.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said a Con-Ass must be a joint meeting of members of the House and the Senate.
“That’s strange to me because no committee of the Senate or of the House, including the committee on Constitutional Amendments, can sit as a Constituent Assembly. The House by itself cannot meet as a Constituent Assembly,” he said.
Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon also disagreed with Garbin’s position.
“The Committee is comprised only of select members of the House. Actions of the committee are subject to the approval of the plenary. Therefore, they cannot claim to be the Constituent Assembly. This is starting off at the wrong foot,” he said on Twitter.
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said that amendment via legislation route of House “is not the Constituent Assembly contemplated by the 1987 Constitution.”
“ A House Committee cannot just declare motu proprio that it is now being constituted as a Constituent Assembly,” he said.
On a break
Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd advised House members to study the rules as Sen. Panfilo Lacson chided lawmakers who claimed to be sitting as a ConAss without the Senate’s participation.
“Congress is on a break. The only way a ConAss can be initiated and considered to sit as one, is if its done in plenary and session assembled. Congress has yet to resume session on Monday. That’s a simple committee hearing they are conducting!” Sotto said on Twitter.
“If we want to tinker with the Constitution, we had better make sure our rules and procedures are sharpened!” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri echoed Sotto’s view: “With all due respect to my good friend Congressman Garbin, Congress is in recess. So, I’m not sure how there was plenary action on their resolution to form a constituent assembly.”
“Our rules only allow committee hearings to take place during the break. So, he may be discussing approval on committee level,” he continued.
Lacson said the congressmen did not know what they are doing: “Last time we heard, the Congress of the Philippines is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
“Patawarin natin sila. Hindi nila alam ang ginagawa nila (Let us forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing),” he said in a text message.
Some lawmakers also pushed for a joint voting process in approving the measure.
Lagman said when exercising the power to amend the constitution, “senators and members of the House of Representatives act not as members of congress but as a component elements of a constituent assembly.”
“If memes of Con-Ass are not sitting as legislators, but as constituent members of the assembly, then the voting should not be separate but it should be joined because there is now no distinction between the Senate and the House because the senators and the representatives are not there acting as legislators but as members of the constituent assembly,” he added.
Lagman said the issue on voting might reach the Supreme Court, further delaying the proceedings to amend the Constitution.
Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla said the issue on voting is a “prejudicial question” and suggested filing a case before the Supreme Court.
Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta noted that “if congress transforms itself to a constituent assembly, all the members become component elements of a constituent assembly.”
“In other words, forget about being senators, forget about being congressmen, you are all equally considered as components elements of a constituent assembly,” he said.
Meanwhile, local government units and economic experts backed the proposed constitutional amendments.
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya turned over 555,610 signatures that he said signified grassroots support for “surgical” amendments to the Constitution.
He said 1,489 municipal mayors also expressed support for amending the Charter.
University of the Philippines School of Economics professor Emeritus Gerardo Sicat said economic reforms in the Constitution would signal foreign investors that the Philippine economy is improving.
“We have to lay the foundation for making the Constitution more progressive in attacking new reforms that will help the country move forward even better,” he added.
National scientist Raul Fabella agreed that lifting the constitutional limit on Foreign Direct Investments will make the country more foreign investment-friendly.
Former National Economic Development Authority chief Ernesto Pernia also supported easing economic limitations to speed up economic recovery.
WITH BERNADETTE TAMAYO