'CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY WITHOUT THE SENATE IS USURPATION OF AUTHORITY'
The constitutional amendments being pushed by the administration camp at the House of Representatives will make impeachment impossible, the spokesperson of a broad-based group of lawyers, paralegals, and law students says. He also said convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend or revise the Constitution without the Senate is tantamount to usurpation of authority -- a criminal offense under the Revised Penal Code.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The constitutional amendments being pushed by the administration camp at the House of Representatives will make impeachment impossible, said the spokesman of a broad-based group of lawyers, paralegals, and law students. He also said convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend or revise the Constitution without the Senate is tantamount to usurpation of authority –- a criminal offense under the Revised Penal Code.
Lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, spokesperson of the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL), was referring to the proposed amendment creating a Commission on Impeachment from among the members of the unicameral Parliament that would replace the present bicameral Congress.
Under the proposed amendments – of which Bulatlat received a copy courtesy of the office of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Rafael Mariano, a member of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments –- the Parliament would be led by a prime minister to be elected by the members from among themselves. Members of Parliament are to be elected mainly by district and region, and shall have no term limits. Twenty percent of the seats allotted to regional and district members are to be occupied by members representing party-list groups and sectoral organizations.
Commission on Impeachment
The proposed amendment creating the Commission on Impeachment provides that:
There shall be a Commission on Impeachment composed of fifteen Members of Parliament chosen on the basis of proportional representation of the Parties therein. It shall have the sole power of impeachment by a majority vote of all its Members. The Parliament shall try all impeachment cases elevated to it, and a vote of at least two-thirds of all the Members shall be necessary to convict on impeachment.
“You cannot become a prime minister unless you’re elected by a majority of the Parliament,” Colmenares told Bulatlat. “That means if you’re the prime minister, you have the majority in the Commission on Impeachment. So you'd never be impeached. The proportionality issue there is a problem. The prime minister has the majority in Parliament, he can never be impeached.”
“That’s a formula for unaccountability,” added the CODAL spokesperson, who has taken doctoral units in Law at the University of Melbourne. “Their impeachment rule is very disastrous and is really not conducive to accountability.”
Asked whether he thought the proposed creation of a Commission on Impeachment as a parliamentary body is a reaction of the administration camp to the political crisis that sprang from the 2004 elections and the two failed attempts at impeaching President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the House, Colmenares replied in the affirmative. “It’s designed to ensure that the prime minister will not be impeached,” he said.
Even during her continuation of the term of ousted President Joseph Estrada (January 2001-May 2004), Arroyo had been facing calls for her removal from office for what cause-oriented groups described as her government’s “anti-national and anti-people” policies. These calls intensified in mid-2005 following the surfacing of the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes -- in which a woman with a voice similar to Arroyo's is heard instructing an election official, widely believed to be Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), to rig the polls.
The controversy generated by the “Hello Garci” tapes led to big rallies calling for Arroyo's resignation or removal from office, and two impeachment complaints against her being filed at the House –- one in 2005 and another earlier this year. Both complaints were dismissed on technical grounds.
The proposed amendments to the Constitution are to be put forward in Congress through a constituent assembly. The administration-dominated House approved at dawn on Dec. 7, through viva voce or voice voting, House Resolution No. 1450 by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend or revise the Constitution.
Congress as a joint assembly is set to convene on Dec. 12 to begin the process of constitutional amendments or revisions –- amid indignation from the progressive party-list congressmen and the traditional opposition at the House, the Senate with the exception of Sens. Ramon Revilla, Jr. and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the El Shaddai, and even the Makati Business Club.
Colmenares decried the manner in which the majority at the House pushed for Congress to convene as a constituent assembly.
He said that convening Congress into a constituent assembly without the Senate is a usurpation of authority. HR 1450 had no Senate counterpart, but was passed anyway.
“You change street names and you need two Houses of Congress,” the CODAL spokesperson said. “You change the Constitution and you do it with only one House going through the motions? It doesn’t seem logical.”
Article XVII of the Constitution provides that:
Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:
(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or
(2) A constitutional convention.
“They say the Constitution doesn’t specify that both Houses are to vote separately in the Constituent assembly,” Colmenares added. “But what is the rule? The rule is that we have a bicameral Congress. That is enshrined in the Constitution. Meaning to say, everything has to be done by both Houses voting separately. The exception is if the Constitution says jointly. If the Constitution does not say they have to vote jointly, the assumption is that they are to vote separately.”
He also said that the representatives who pushed for Congress to convene into a constituent assembly without the Senate are criminally liable.
“That’s usurpation of authority under the Revised Penal Code,” Colmenares said. “If a public official misrepresents himself and claims, ‘I have this authority and function,’ when in fact he does not, that’s usurpation of authority. That makes him criminally liable.” Bulatlat