We cannot have a Constitution drawn up with the kind of bitter and unrelenting charges and counter- charges now flying in all directions. We have not even talked about issues and provisions of the proposed new Charter. We are just talking about the means to revise or amend the present one. But the officials concerned – in the Senate and in the House of Representatives —are hitting each other with such insulting words we don’t think they could ever get together to agree on anything.
Leaders of the House have declared they can amend the Constitution by themselves in a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) via a vote of more than three-fourths of the members of Congress. They have 293 members while the Senate has only 24, so they say they have more than three-fourths of the total membership of 317.
Because of this perceived overpowering numbers, they believe – and they do not flinch at saying so –that they do not need the senators. They can do it themselves. They have begun to talk not just of setting up a federal system of government, but also of having a unicameral parliament or congress, claiming the present bicameral system just slows down the work of government. Some have also begun to talk of a ten-year period of adjustment during which they will keep their present positions without need for any reelection.
Members of the Senate have hit back with words like “ridiculous” and “pathetic.” When the Constitution speaks of “Congress, ” they said, it refers to its two chambers, the Senate and the House. The House cannot meet by itself as a Consituent Assembly; the Senate has first to agree to meet. In any case, they said, a plebiscite has to approve the product of the Con-Ass and such a plebiscite needs funds that can only be officially appropriated by joint Senate-House action.
The current impasse is over the constitutional provision that “Congress, by a three-fourths vote of all its members” may propose amendments to the Charter. Members of the commission that drafted the present 1987 Constitution said this provision was evidently drawn up when it was believed that the new Congress would be a unicameral body. But in the closing sessions of the commission, a bicameral Congress won by one vote. So it was back to two chambers, each voting separately in enacting laws and in other actions, such as declaring war and impeaching high officials.
It is said that the vote for a bicameral Congress may have been carried by a statement of one delegate that representatives tend to see the trees while senators tend to see the forest. Representatives are elected by their small constituencies, thus tend to focus on their needs and problems; senators are elected nationally and thus tend to see the entire forest, the entire nation. Both points of view are important; thus the decision for a bicameral Congress.
In any case, this last-minute glitch in the provision on Constitutional Assembly has now given rise to the current problem which has come to be marked by so many insulting remarks, so many indications of closed minds.
This is not how the framers of a Constitution should work. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque remarked, “From my brief experience in Congress, Congress is not just deliberative. It’s consensual. You need to build consensus.”
We hope this comment, which must reflect the thinking of President Duterte himself, will lead the current warring members of the House and Senate into more amicable, more open, more consensual discussions. The new Constitution should be the product not of closed minds but of consensus that reflect the Filipino nation and its resiliency, its openness, and its spirit of unity.