RBH-6 economic amendments may not be enough

 At last, both chambers of Congress stopped attacking each other publicly as hearings on “Resolution of Both Houses number 6” (RBH-6) began at the Senate. Debates are expected to heighten from protagonists who advocate different agendas. But at the very least, we are now hearing the pros and cons of the proposed amendments.  

However, there are numerous Catch 22 situations here and there.

Senate’s RBH-6 amends ONLY the provisions limiting foreign investments in public utilities, advertising, and education. It also seeks the power of Congress to pass laws by appending the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” portions of the Charter.

The Senate already began discussions on the proposed amendments like a regular bill, while a separate discussion can proceed at the House of Representatives. No joint hearings of both Chambers will happen.

Once the concerned Senate Committee approves the proposed amendments, it will be presented to the whole chamber for final approval by at least 18 of the 24 senators on third and final reading.  There is no bicameral conference committee in a constitutional amendment and therefore after transmission to the House of Representatives, congressmen can only do two things, either approve or reject the Senate amendments.  If they reject, then it is back to square one.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda and House committee chair on Constitutional Amendments Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Representatives wants Senate to empower Congress to regulate more economic provisions other than in the Zubiri proposal.  Other Congress Leaders say economic amendments should create more job opportunities, increase corporate access to social programs, spur development in various sectors thru foreign investments.

How will Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Speaker Martin Romualdez resolve these wide differences of opinion of both Chambers?

At the rate it’s going,  consensus of both sides is a must. If this doesn’t happen, a dead-end situation will occur and “peoples initiative” becomes big possibility.

Two things may happen. First, what if the proposed amendments do not get the required 18 votes or three fourth of the chamber ( that is if pro-administration senators vote against it) ? 

Second, if it did pass chamber approval, but the House of Representatives rejects it?

Of course, Senators will fight to the death all changes in our bicameral government. In a sense, peoples initiative is a Damocles sword that threaten their existence. Will senators succumb to this pressure and expand the proposed economic provisions?

If the issue is check and balance in our presidential bicameral system of government, then this system has failed us in the past 37 years of the 1987 Charter. Look at our elected senators, and then blame it on our personality-driven politics (actors and known families)  and our money driven electoral campaigns (P500m campaign budget) .   How could some of these senators represent the true will of the people?  Perhaps some of them may not even win a political district as congressmen or mayor.

If our  senators want to retain their positions, then we could adopt the system in our  ASEAN neighbor Indonesia. They call their government a Unitary presidential constitutional republic. They elect their President and Vice President. They also elect  575 congressmen from each legislative district.  But the senators , about 136 of them are ELECTED  by 34 provinces with four senators each. Take note, their Senators become  accountable to their constituents in their respective provinces hence they choose the best of  the best political leaders.

But overall, people think that what we have is a “weak” 1987 Constitution, crafted mainly against a former dictator and preventing future ones , but in reality , has emasculated government’s machinery especially on the devolved local level.

If there is a real “peoples initiative”, why should we stop it?  If done legally, and sans political influences, this “initiative” is an exercise of a real democracy that will determine if our “people” are either happy or not with the present ‘Constitutional status quo”.

The reason  our country lags economically is the six year changes in government leaders, their respective parties and different policies .   Our bicameral legislature is also part of that problem and for the37 years of the 1987 Constitution, many of its  mandatory provisions remain untouched such as “political dynasties” and others.

And now this latest attempt to amend, and the ball is in the hands of Zubiri on how  and when senators will decide on the proposed economic provisions.

House Deputy speaker David Suarez hopes Senate will comply with the “time frame” set in a meeting with PBBM. “ We believe that SP Zubiri will be true to his word and walk the talk in realizing his commitment to approve RBH No. 6 before the Holy Week break this year by the end of March,” he said.

But Zubiri countered that the Senate is working hard to listen to the clamor of certain sectors to look at and revisit the 1987 Constitution, but we will not be falling into a trap on any deadline, because to discuss such an important matter needs time,”.

With bated breath, we will be watching with greatest interest these separate Senate and House hearings, and hope that their results will really become beneficial to our citizenry.  Our world is replete of dangerous headwinds and our government must be further strengthened and more capable to protect our people and nation.  (end)