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Alvarez kinontra! Zubiri: No amendments to Constitution without Senate

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By Xave Gregorio

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri refuted House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’ claim that the lower chamber can proceed to propose to amend the Constitution even without the Senate.

“Well, we are on the contrary to that,” Zubiri said Wednesday (July 11) in an interview.

“We feel that to be able to have a constituent assembly, we need to approve a constituent assembly resolution and that still needs to be approved on the floor,” he said further.

While charter change (Chacha) is among the priorities of the House for the third regular session of the 17th Congress opens in two weeks, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III earlier said the Duterte-backed move is not a priority in the upper chamber.

In reaction to this, Alvarez insisted that the House can push through with proposing amendments to the Constitution even without the Senate.

“Mas gugustuhin namin (House) na kasama sila (Senate). Pero kung ayaw nila, eh ‘di we will proceed with the proposal to the people,” he told House reporters in a press briefing.

The 1987 Constitution requires that at least three-fourths of Congress call to convene itself into a constituent assembly (ConAss) which would propose and vote on amendments to the Constitution. It may also call to form a constitutional convention (ConCon) with the same number of votes.

House leaders interpret this to mean that only three-fourths of the entire Congress is needed to call for a ConAss – the favored mode for Chacha as it is deemed by the administration as easier and cheaper than a ConCon, which would require elections of new representatives who would propose and vote on constitutional amendments.

This differs from the Senate’s view. Senators insist that a three-fourths vote of the House and another separate three-fourths vote of the Senate is required to call for a ConAss.

“We feel in the Senate that it should be voting separately when it comes to issues concerning the Constitution and constitutional change and charter change,” Zubiri said.

He added that the move to amend the charter may not gain enough votes in the Senate.

“I’m sorry to tell the Speaker, we still don’t have the numbers because to amend the Constitution. You’ll need three-fourths vote which is 18 votes. Eh ang majority 17 lang. Sino sa opposition ang sasama sa amin?” Zubiri said.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s consultative committee has turned over copies of the draft federal constitution to Congress leaders on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sotto said the Senate will now prioritize discussions on calling for Congress to convene into a constituent assembly.

He added that he would be distributing copies of the draft charter to senators who would be called in a caucus before Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address to discuss the provisions in the proposed new charter and their next move on the measure.