Senate mulls expulsion of members who will attend House-led Constituent Assembly

MANILA, Philippines – Senators unanimously decided to reject the proposal to vote jointly with the House of Representatives in a Constituent Assembly that will draft a new Constitution. 

It will consider expelling members who will go to the House, and whose presence might be interpreted by the lower chamber as agreement to joint voting.

"Yesterday, we had a caucus of the entire Senate. And the unanimous vote, no dissent, is that we should vote separately," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told reporters on the sidelines of a hearing on proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution. 

Drilon, a member of the Liberal Party, added, "You know in my 20 years as a senator, only a few times when there was unanimity." (READ: Joint voting on Cha-Cha? Senate's problems, plans against it)

The caucus happened just as the House of Representatives approved a resolution that paved the way for Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly to revise the Constitution.

While House Concurrent Resolution 9 does not explicitly say that deliberations and voting will be joint, it stipulates "that the 17th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines shall constitute itself into a Constituent Assembly." 

The resolution, approved on seconnd reading during session on January 16, will need Senate concurrence to take effect. 

"The Senate, by not acting on the resolution, effectively stops the process. But we will not do that. We will hear. But we are not obligated to act on it. Or if we act different, that cannot be acted on by the Supreme Court," added Drilon. 

While the House has already come up proposed amendments in the Constitution and has decided that it would do so through a Con-Ass, the Senate on Wednesday, January 17, resumed deliberations to determine if amendments or revisions to the Constitution is needed in the first place.  

So determined is the Senate to reject the proposed a joint session that its members agreed during the caucus to sanction any senator who would join House members during session, which would then be interpreted as "joint session." 

Citing "rumors," Drilon said the House could "interpret as joint session" if one or two senators show up should the House convene as a Con-Ass.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the majority, suggested expulsion as punishment for senators who go against the "unanimous" vote.

The two chambers of Congress are deliberating on possible amendments to or a revision of the 1987 Constitution as part of efforts to shift to a federal form of government. Federalism has been President Rodrigo Duterte's advocacy even during his time as Davao City mayor. 

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants a Con-Ass by January 2018 and a plebiscite for the new Constitution by May 2018. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, is pushing for a 2019 plebescite. – Rappler.com