"It's up to the individual senators to endorse it. But we will go on to the next stage - convening a constituent assembly - with or without them." Thus, cavalierly proclaims Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino when asked about the next steps to be taken after the House of Representatives passed the much disdained HR 1109 - a resolution seeking to convene Congress into a constitutent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution.
As if many have not spoken yet - expressing objections to HR 1109 from mild rebuke to raging outrage, that even led Jesus Is Lord (JIL) head Eddie Villanueva to call the legislators who approved the measure as terrorists and one blogger to compare them with the 9/11 terrorists - congressmen like Antonino, led by House Speaker Prospero Nograles, are still bent on their brazen attempt to introduce changes to our basic law by proceeding with their convoluted view that the House could do it alone.
As we have feared in previous postings, the majority in the House is now moving toward the most stupid thing to do by unilaterally acting to propose amendments to the Constitution. Congressman Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City minced no words when he said that the House will start with the charter change process before President Arroyo gives her State of the Nation address when Congress resumes session in July. The theory that Domogan and Antonino, the proponents' mouthpieces, are pursuing is that only a simple majority is needed to convene Congress into a constitutent assembly and that by the sheer number of those who approved HR 1109 - the gang of 174 - they already achieved sufficient votes for this purpose, thereby negating the need for the senators' votes. Yes, you got that right, these geniuses are actually saying that the Senate does not matter; in fact they intend to send HR 1109 to the individual senators, instead of the Senate as a body, as a token gesture to give them a chance to participate. So much for bicameralism. Even as now they have already amended the Constitution!
So now we can see a bifurcated process unfolding: (1) convening Congress into a constituent assembly, requiring only a simple majority and (2) proposing amendments to the Constitution, requiring three-fourths vote. According to the proponents, in both cases the senators' votes are inconsequential as the House membership alone can muster the needed votes. The grotesqueness of this is readily apparent. How can HR 1109 alone - a pure act of the Lower House - become the decision of Congress that is composed of not only the House but the Senate as well? As we have been repeatedly saying a two-chamber Congress, with limited exceptions, can only act with both Houses acting in concert. And sending HR 1109 to individual senators for their signatures will not satisfy this legal requirement even if majority of them were to sign it, since the acts of the senators could only constitute as an act of the Senate if they are acting as one body, in session assembled.
In addition, as pointed out by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, no further act is necessary to convene Congress into a constituent assembly as it is already constituted as such by virtue of Article XVII, Section 1 of the Constitution. Let me just add that Congress is automatically set in a constituent assembly mode from a purely legislative mode whenever it proposes amendments to the Constitution, even in accordance with the normal legislative route. A joint session is not even essential because what will characterize Congress as a constituent assembly is the act of introducing changes to the Constitution, for the word "constituent" refers to the power to frame a fundamental law or constitution and to introduce changes to it, as opposed to the exercise of mere legislative powers which refers to the enactment or amendment of statutes. What the Constitution only requires is that a three-fourths vote, compared to a simple majority in enacting laws, is necessary to approve the amendments and ratification by the people in a plebiscite to make them binding.
Be that as it may, nothing - legally, that is - will as yet prevent the House from proceeding. As soon as the House reconvenes, it can start proposing amendments. It can perfectly do this in accordance with Congress's power to propose amendments to the Constitution under Article XVII, Section 1. But there is a big "but." Such act would only be the sole act of the Lower House that will have to be transmitted to the Senate for its approval. Given Domogan and Antonino's statements, however, the House would proceed with step two of the bifurcated proceedings by sticking to its absurd logic that the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly (joint session is more like it) has already been approved and, therefore, the House members would be acting or representing Congress as a whole when they start deliberating and approving amendments to the Constitution in July. It's like telling the senators, "Congress is now convened into one and ready to amend the Constitution. It's up to you if you want to join or not," with the addendum, "either way, we have the votes to approve the amendments."
But why is this obssession and unwavering insistence despite the strong public outrage against charter change? How could these congressmen not heed the public sentiment and risk political suicide? It is obvious that these congressmen, a lot of them lawyers and veterans of Congress, know that without the Senate an act of the House alone cannot pass constitutional muster, and yet there is this sinister confidence to proceed. I would concede there can be a valid debate between joint and separate voting, but to say that a joint session - the vehicle to jumpstart the debate - of both Houses could be achieved by HR 1109 alone would be the height of stupidity that does not even merit the passing attention of the Supreme Court.
The majority in the House might have just stumbled and bared its ulterior motive in following and revealing an absurd theory. Domogan and Antonino's statements may have just revealed that all this fuzz about forcing a justiciable controversy is but a smokescreen for something bigger. The stupidity of their position with which they are so confident, coupled by their indifference to the public sentiment, are sending dangerous signals that something terrible is in the offing. Take note, this adamance - which is becoming exceedingly clear as deliberate - is stoking the fire of discontent and as I write this, preparations are underway for massive protests and rallies. The hubris is simply alarming. Nuff said.