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Commentary

Constitutional misrepresentation

/ 05:04 AM January 27, 2018

Perhaps a nonlawyer’s perspective is needed to clearly show that the House of Representatives alone cannot act as the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. Though members of the House have been commonly referred to as congressmen and congresswomen, the term does not assign to them exclusive claim on the function of Congress for purposes of constitutional amendments and revisions. Memberships in the House and in the Senate are distinct, the members of the former being elected locally, and the members of the latter nationally. They are not equal from the standpoint of numbers by virtue of election. The 24 senators, though fewer, collectively match the legislative power of the 297 representatives. No proposed law will go to the president for approval or veto without a joint congressional enactment. Each chamber reconciles with the other all proposed legislation; otherwise, the process aborts. Article VI of the 1987 Constitution defines the legislative and related functions of Congress and how the two chambers interact. In Article VII, likewise: When a vice president’s replacement is made, the two chambers vote separately.

The bicameral structure of Congress is again underscored in Article XI. It defines the distinct roles of both chambers in the impeachment process: The House initiates and prosecutes; the Senate acts as judge to convict or to acquit. The two chambers act together with clear functions. Neither acts alone; otherwise, it will not be an act of Congress.

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Article XVII pertains to the process of amending or revising a constitution either by three-fourths vote of all members of Congress; or by a constitutional convention which Congress will call by two-thirds vote of all its members or by majority vote to submit the call for a constitutional convention to the electorate; or by a people’s initiative. Note that Article XVII does not redefine Congress: It remains bicameral, and the distinct memberships are maintained. And three-fourths in the Senate is 18 senators, while three-fourths in the House is 222 representatives. They are equal in power to act and jointly propose constitutional amendment/s to a plebiscite. Any other means cannot be construed as a congressional act. Any other interpretation will be a grave constitutional misrepresentation.

The Article on amendments and revisions is the second to the last Article before the Article on Transitory Provisions. It follows the Article on General Provisions which, for all intents and purposes, wrap up the Constitution with “miscellaneous items.” The Article on amendments and revisions is obviously not an afterthought but a general declaration that in time there will be a need to make amendments and revisions to the Constitution. This, however, is not expected to be based on a timeline but clearly and exclusively based on an urgent need.

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Indeed, for the last 31 years, attempts at Charter change have been resisted by the people. The government structure established by the 1987 Constitution has been able to provide political stability, delivering a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power through popular elections. Edsa 2 may be an aberration, but it still was a nonviolent change of leadership.

The primary concern in Philippine society is economic sustainability, which is under threat from the ever-growing gap in income distribution despite wealth growth proceeding at an unprecedented pace. Oligarchs, political dynasts and economic elites have controlled the economic landscape, exploiting the Filipino diaspora on which the economic boom has been sustained. The government has failed to intervene to expand the middle class and uplift the masses from extreme poverty.

The 1987 Constitution is not the obstacle to an equitable redistribution of income and wealth. The problem lies in the inability of those in the government to steer all stakeholders in society toward a more sharing disposition. It is recognized that the “invisible hand” guiding market forces is an objective mechanism for economic resource allocation. But there are many circumstances when intervention is imperative to get the “invisible hand” to work for the common good, too. Sadly, many in the government have even conspired with the elites at the expense of the poor.

The call of the times is social value transformation across the broad spectrum of Philippine society. Radical changes must take place in how Filipinos look after one another. Charter change at this time, particularly with the end in view of establishing an uncharted countrywide federated structure, will lead to extreme uncertainty. Past efforts at regional autonomy and greater local government autonomy have not delivered prosperity to the people at the grassroots.

May the leadership see the light and proceed with prudence and great caution on Charter change. The people will surely see through a self-directed agenda in the Charter change initiatives being pushed.

Danilo S. Venida ([email protected] com) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.

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