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Con-Ass voting issue remains undecided

The Supreme Court (SC) in its hearing last Tuesday voted unanimously to reject a petition filed last month asking it to decide whether the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote jointly or separately if it convenes as a Constituent Assembly.

The SC said it has no original jurisdiction over such a petition for declaratory relief. The case should have been filed first with a Regional Trial Court (RTC), it said. The SC could review the RTC decision if raised to the higher court. The SC also pointed out that it does not give advisory opinions. Its role is to settle actual controversies.

The Supreme Court decision stresses the need to follow procedure as spelled out in Rule 63 of the Rules of Court. The petitioners, therefore, can refile their petition with an RTC which would look into the case and, very likely, would declare that it being a matter of interpreting the Constitution, it should go up to the Supreme Court.

The proper procedure having been followed, the Supreme Court may then take up the case. It will try to unravel an issue that has become highly political. The House claims that in the absence of any definite contrary provision, Congress votes as one body in a Constituent Assembly. The Senate, on the other hand, points out that in all other cases calling for Congressional action – such as enacting laws, in a declaration of war. Or in an impeachment – the two houses of Congress vote separately.

While the issue remains undecided – and it may take some time – Congress is proceeding with plans to convene as a Constituent Assembly to amend or revise the Constitution. It is a matter of great urgency for President Duterte who has warned that without federalism in a new Constitution, the Moro people may go to war.

It may be better, as some have suggested, that the members of Congress – senators and congressmen – meet among themselves and come to a consensus on what should be revised in the Constitution. Then there might not be any need to debate on the manner of voting in a Constituent Assembly – jointly or separately.

In the new Constitution, this hazy provision should be clarified so there would be no dispute in future years that even the Supreme Court will find difficult to decide – all because it was overlooked in the closing days of the Constitutional Commission that drew up the present Constitution.