'Ugly, embarrassing' debacle proves House can't amend Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – Senators slammed lawmakers’ debacle over the speakership just ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA), with some saying it shows how the House of Representatives could not be trusted to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Before foreign dignitaries, former president and now Pampanga 2nd district Representative Gloria Arroyo was elected as the new Speaker – even without a formal session, a working microphone, and the House’s mace – creating confusion on who the real House leader was. 

Palagay ko (I think) this House cannot amend the Constitution,” a laughing Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto told reporters after Duterte’s third SONA on Monday.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the “low and disgraceful” incident is a “strong argument” against a parliamentary form of government.

“Regardless of whether it was Rep Arroyo or somebody else replacing the ousted Speaker, what happened yesterday is a strong argument against a parliamentary form of government where patronage politics plays a major, if not the only, role in selecting our country’s top leader,” he added.

Lacson also warned the House to re-think their agenda of making former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prime minister under the new government. Certainly, the Senate would block that, he said. (READ: 'Prime Minister Arroyo' if Cha-Cha succeeds, warns opposition)

“If GMA’s ascension to the speakership is a prelude to becoming Prime Minister, they better think twice because the Senate, both majority and minority have agreed to close ranks to defend and assert our role under the 1987 Constitution in revising or amending the same. That, I can say with certainty and conviction,” Lacson said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Duterte was annoyed at the tussle that delayed his speech for over an hour.

“Inis si PRRD. Hindi niya gusto 'yung nangyayari. Bakit daw sinasabay sa SONA? Muntik ng mag-walkout,” Sotto said on Tuesday, July 24. (READ: 'Why is he inside?' Tempers flare after Alvarez ouster)

(President Duterte got annoyed. He didn't like what happened. Why did it have to coincide with SONA, he said. He almost walked out.)

The Senate and the House are divided on how to amend the 1987 Constitution. The House is pushing for a joint voting in a constituent assembly, one of the 3 modes for Charter Change and Duterte’s preferred method.

Senators strongly oppose this, as they would practically be drowned out by 291 House members. (READ: 'Con-Ass without Senate won't pass legal, constitutional, logical test')

Low, ugly, embarrassing

“If only for the timing and manner the coup d'etat in the House of Representatives was carried out, I would say it was awkward, ugly, low and disgraceful. In a manner of speaking, even the traditionally symbolic mace was in a maze yesterday at the Batasan, not knowing whose authority it would represent between the two contending personalities,” Lacson said.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito slammed Alvarez for clinging to power. He differentiated former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel III and Alvarez, both partymates of Duterte in the ruling PDP-Laban.

“Change in leadership in both houses was in contrast. Former Senate president Koko Pimentel showed class and decency during the transition in the Senate. Senator Koko showed how it is to be a statesman. By putting personal and political interest aside,” Ejercito said.

Sotto replaced Pimentel as Senate President on May 21, with Pimentel peacefully relinquishing his post to the former. (READ: Pimentel resigns as Senate president)

For opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, the debacle reflects “the chaos and incompetence plaguing the Duterte government.” She said it is the true state of the nation.

“It is petty infighting, backstabbing, and brinkmanship, all done at the people’s expense. This is nothing short of an embarrassment. It is a clear failure in leadership,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“It reveals the extent of the President’s weakness, that minutes before his SONA, in front of the nation and the international community, congressional representatives decided to bicker and squabble for power. They chose to disrespect their own President and attend to their own ambitions in full view of the nation. For almost an hour, it seemed that nobody was in control,” she added. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.