February 24, 2018, 10:28 pm
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Solon confirms moves to abolish Senate under federal constitution

MOVES to abolish the Senate under the proposed shift to a federal form of government continue to simmer at the House of Representatives where congressmen are at odds with senators over the proposal to amend the Constitution.

Rep. Vicente Veloso (PDP-Laban, Leyte), a vice chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, said that while the proposal in the committee is to keep a bicameral legislature, there are “very strong” reasons for the House to push for the Senate’s dissolution.

“Number one, it is expensive (to have a bicameral Congress) and No. 2, we do not have the same Senate that we use to have,” said Veloso, a  retired Court of Appeals associate justice, belittling the Senate’s present composition.

Veloso headed one of the four subcommittees tasked to review the Constitution and propose amendments to pave the way for the shift to federalism by convening the House and the Senate into a constituent assembly (Con-Ass).

Senators have already decided not to participate in the House plan to convene a Con-Ass, insisting that the voting on the proposal should be done separately since they are greatly outnumbered by congressmen and will only be rendered irrelevant.

In the event that the Senate is retained under the new federal Constitution, however, it could end up emasculated and stripped of its lawmaking powers.

“Personally, my proposal is legislation will be basically a responsibility of congressmen, we call them federal assemblymen,” Veloso said. “The Senate, we will make it a point to be the training ground for (the) presidency.”

Veloso said the Senate will be stripped of its power to review and approve the annual national budget and will be focused on ratification of treaties with other countries and the confirmation of appointees, including those in the Judiciary.

The administration lawmaker said it is becoming too costly for the people to maintain a bicameral Congress since it only causes legislative gridlock whenever senators sit on measures approved by the House.

“You see, we make laws quickly. We have approved so many (proposed) laws but where are these measures now? It’s there, gathering dust in the Senate,” he said.

Veloso is confident that the people, who will be asked to vote in a plebiscite if they are in favor of the shift to federalism or not, will be in favor the Senate’s abolition once they see how expensive it is to keep it.

“That will no longer be our initiative. The people, themselves, will move (for the Senate’s abolition),” he said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday it’s time for Senate and House leaders to sit down to break the impasse on the mode of voting to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution to pave the way for a shift to a federal form of government.

Lacson said Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, along with majority leaders Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas and minority leaders Sen. Franklin Drilon and Rep. Danilo Suarez should meet and agree on separate voting in a constituent assembly.

He stressed that if the House would insist on joint voting, nothing would be resolved as senators have made a stand solid for separate voting. 

He said charter change would be good as dead if the House will continue with its Con-Ass proceedings even without the participation of senators, saying that under the bicameral legislature any activity of one chamber should get the support of the other chamber.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, an ally of President Duterte, had earlier suggested a summit among leaders of Congress to settle the issue on the manner of voting.

But Drilon immediately shot down the proposal, saying the summit “will put the cart before the horse.”

Drilon instead suggested that both houses of Congress conduct their proceedings on amending the Constitution separately before a summit is held.

“Until these issues are settled, I do not see the point of a summit. Transparency and public participation are critical to people’s trust in the process,” Drilon said.

The House of Representatives last week adopted Concurrent Resolution No. 9, which seeks to convene Congress into a Con-Ass. The lower chamber is also pushing for a joint voting of the Congress, which the Senate is strongly opposing.

Veloso said some of his colleagues want the Senate abolished because they find it unfair that some of its members, who did not even study law, have the power to reject a congressman’s proposal.

He shared the observation of Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro of Capiz, a lawyer and a veteran legislator who was engaged in a verbal tussle with Sen. Panfilo Lacson last week over the proposals to extend the term of sitting officials.

“For example, Fred Castro. He’ll say, ‘I toiled and studied law, I am a lawyer, I graduated from UP, I spent a long time studying the law thoroughly and suddenly, a senator who did not even study law and who is illogical, will reverse me. Well, that is his (Castro) opinion but it seems to be meritorious opinion,” he said.

Veloso said the Senate’s composition is a shell of its former self which was composed of intellectual giants like the late former Senate President Jovito Salonga and the late former Sen. Claro Recto, the late former Vice President Arturo Tolentino, and the late former Sen. Jose “Pepe” Diokno.

“Just look at the Senate. Who among its members now have the stature of Recto, Tolentino? The best of the best. Diokno, Salonga,” he said.

Veloso also took a swipe at Lacson’s proposal to expel senators who will join Con-Ass, saying those proposing it are the ones who deserve to be expelled for being ignorant of the law and for “disorderly behavior.”

“Those threatening to expel (should be expelled). They should brush up on their Constitution. Let them see Article VI (The Legislative Department), paragraph 3. It’s only by disorderly behavior that you can expel a member of Congress, either Senate or the House. And intimidation, blackmail is disorderly behavior. What were they thinking?” said Veloso.

He insisted that Congress should vote jointly in approving the proposed amendments to the Constitution which is silent on how the two Houses should vote when convening to change the Constitution.

“We’ll (House) go solo. The Constitution does not say that all congressmen and senators should always be present. Let’s put it the other way, what if they (senators) were the ones initiating constitutional revision and we’re against it. Can we boycott it? We can’t,” he said.

Article XVII, Sec. 1 of the Constitution provides that “any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.” –  With JP Lopez
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