Senators to walk out if Con-Ass pushed in joint session

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday, July 23, threatened to walk out if a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) is introduced in this afternoon's joint session, in time for President Rodrigo Duterte's 3rd State of the Nation Address. (READ: The problem with Con-Ass? Distrust of Congress)

If that happens, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would adjourn the session on the part of the Senate. (READ: Joint voting on Cha-Cha? Senate's problems, plans against it)

"That is not possible because it is not part of the resolution that we [agreed] on today. So there is no other business that can be done then. If ever that happens, I will adjourn the session on the part of the Senate," Sotto told reporters before the Senate opened the 3rd regular session of the 17th Congress.

In an ANC interview, opposition senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said senators across party lines would not allow it and would walk out if Con-Ass is inserted into the agenda.

"That's not going to happen.The Senate leadership has already spoken. And I think if it happens, the Senate will simply walk out. We won't allow it to happen," Aquino said.

During the session, the Senate approved a concurrent resolution for Congress to hear Duterte's SONA on Monday afternoon. Sotto and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri repeated at least thrice that the agenda was only to listen to the speech and nothing else, in apparent reference to Con-Ass talks.

Con-Ass, one of the 3 modes to amend the 1987 Constitution, is the preferred method of Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The House earlier adopted a resolution calling on Congress to convene in a Con-Ass. The Senate, however, has not concurred with that resolution. Instead, Senator Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Resolution No. 580 calling for the Senate to take part in the bicameral Con-Ass, emphasizing that there should be separate voting.

Alvarez has insisted there should be joint voting in Con-Ass. Senators strongly oppose this, as they would practically be drowned out by 291 House members. They alleged that Alvarez was only out to extend lawmakers' terms of office. (READ: Alvarez: Yes to anti-dynasty provision, no to term limits in new charter)

Article 17, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution states that Congress may propose any amendment or revision to the charter upon a vote of 3/4 of all its members (Con-Ass). It is, however, silent on the manner of voting. (READ: 'Con-Ass without Senate won't pass legal, constitutional, logical test')

Senators argued that if the Senate's vote is needed on ordinary bills such as the changing of names of schools and highways, senators should also have a say on the crucial task of amending the Constitution.

Just recently, Alvarez floated the idea that instead of a Con-Ass, a People's Initiative be used to cancel the 2019 midterm elections to speed up the shift to a federal system of government. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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

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