Friday, June 5, 2009

To Vote Jointly, or Separately, That is the Question

Congressmen who have been assiduously pushing for Charter change (Cha-cha) via Congress acting as a Constituent Assembly have firmly set their sights on forcing a joint voting by all members of Congress, thus removing the distinction between senators and representatives. This intention, which has long been made public, has finally been formalized by the majority in the House of Representatives with the haphazard adoption of House Resolution 1109 last Tuesday.

But the trigger, if you will, cannot as yet be pulled since the bullet that will hit the target is still unavailable. The mere passage of HR 1109, although feared by many as a prelude to the railroading of amendments to the Constitution, is not enough to achieve the House's objective of creating a justiciable controversy that will bring the Supreme Court in for the purpose of ruling on the methodology of voting. As everyone who understands how our system of government functions already knows, the House alone cannot convene Congress in joint session because the Senate, which is equally a part of Congress, must concur.

The issue on joint or separate voting can only arise when the Senate agrees to sit with the House in joint session. Unfortunately for the House, the majority and minority blocs in the Senate have already signified their unanimity to oppose the House's efforts; in fact, even before HR 1109 there is already that disinterest to join by the Senate in apparent awareness of the House's dark scheme to outvote the senators in a joint session. But time is running out for the ruling party since elections are just around the corner so, despite the impediments and the expected firestorm of public outrage, the House proceeded with the plan and adopted HR 1109 in the hope that someone, like lawyer Oliver Lozano, will file a petition before the Supreme Court to thresh out the voting issue. But this petition is expected to fail for prematurity.

A reading of HR 1109, particularly its whereas clauses, clearly shows that voting jointly or seprately is what the majority in the House want to be settled. And the majority's position, of course, is that voting should be done jointly, which they justify by saying that the non-inclusion in Article XVII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution of the phrases "in joint session assembled" and "the Senate and the House of Representatives voting separately," as found in the 1935 Constitution, conveys the intention that voting on the amendments should now be undertaken jointly. More on this in subsequent postings.

So why the obsession on this mode of voting? The number of representatives is clearly superior to that of the senators. If the numbers are correct, there are reported 275 representatives and 23 senators. Lumping them together under one roof we have a total of 298 legislators. Three-fourths vote is necessary to approve any amendment, so if the mode of voting be joint then all that is needed is 224. Since there are 275 representatives they can very well outvote all 23 senators, assuming only 51 representatives do not follow suit. Fr. Joaquin Bernas calls this drowning senators in a sea of House votes.

But what assurance does the House have in getting a favorable decision from the Supreme Court, if and when it is finally able to bring the issue to the Court? The administration hopes to fill all the vacancies in the High Court, that will be created with the retirement of a number of justices before President Arroyo's term expires, with appointees who will render a favorable decision. With the retirement of Justices Dante Tigna and Alicia Austria-Martinez, allegations are already flying high that Malacañang's unseen hand is working for the appointment of lawyer Rodolfo Robles, who is said to have close ties with the Macapagals. Another aspirant who is seen as a Malacañang favorite is Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera who, like Robles, favors joint voting.

After having said all these, House Speaker Prospero Nograles and company will still have to devise more creative ways on how to properly bring the issue of joint or separate voting before the Supreme Court. With opposition from a Senate that is afraid to ride against the storm of public criticism on Cha-cha, the vehicle - a joint session of both Houses under the nomenclature Constituent Assembly - is still elusive. We will see how Nograles convinces his colleagues in the Senate when he meets with them about HR 1109.

5 comments:

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

The last time the House Majority tried to get the Court to rule was in the case of Adam Relson Jala, mentioned in my previous post. That "triggering" suit was dismissed for prematurity.

When will the issue be "ripe" for adjudication in this case?

ricelander said...

I am puzzled by the principle behind joint voting in a setup of bicameralism. In a bicameral arrangement, as far as I understand, both houses are coequal, as powerful as the other,so that they check and balance one another. When they vote together, as in concur or not concur to Martial Law, by virtue of number, Senate is degraded into a token participant, right? On a question where joint voting is required, the Lower House is the arbiter, again by virtue of number. The point I want to raise is this: if we wish to uphold the spirit of bicameralism, and go by the numbers, there should be 275 senators as well, right? Else, what bicameralism are we talking about?

Jun Bautista said...

DJB, I believe the eminent constitutionalist Fr. Bernas already said in your facebook note, per info from Cynthia Patag, that the issue becomes ripe only when the House asks Comelec to submit proposed amendments (presumably made only by the House) to a plebiscite. This is so, because until the House does this - thus far it is still acting within its constitutional powers HR 1109 notwithstanding - there would be no unconstitutional act which the SC can review.

Jun Bautista said...

ricelander,

Our concept of bicameralism was copied from the US - and the US's was derived from the British (with a House of Lord and House of Commons)- where the intention is to have a senate supposedly composed of men and women with broader perspectives by thinking in terms of the national welfare or interest, as opposed to the congressmen's supposed parochial interests borne by their predisposition to advance more the interest of the districts they represent. Yes, joint voting has a nasty way of depriving the senators' voting powers, but this is a very limited instance only. Overall, there are many instances where the check-and-balance works, such as in the enactment of legislations where either House can block a defective bill by the other. In these cases, superiority in numbers becomes irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

i questioned the rationale of joint voting before in filipino voices, dean. if or when such an event materializes (okay, hypothetically), i still could not fathom the logic of having to count the votes of senators as individual votes when they have been selected on a national scale. EACH of them should proportionaly get the total headcounts as those representing the cuckoos in the lower house, whose been voted in by districts lang naman po. pati pa naman simpol election arithmetic, these lower lifeforms will want to distort?

i.n.e.