Section 3, Article XVII
December 10, 2008 Leave a comment
In almost all things, the two Houses of Philippine Congress vote separately. But should they vote separately on the issue of Constitutional Reform? In everything that these two chambers do, from their joint committee hearings to conference committee deliberations, both Houses vote separately.
The constitution was not specific on the issue of voting separately or jointly in Section 3, Article XVII, which discusses the constituent assembly mode of amending or revising the charter. The difference can be clearly spelled out since in almost every provision of the Constitution that involves the need to concur of both chambers, it is specified that they vote separately.
The constitution’s specificity, therefore, on the issue of amending the constitution needs to be clarified by the Supreme Court.
The 1987 constitution has its way of being specific. Take for example, Section 23, Article 6 (Legislative Department), the constitution states that in order to declare a state of war, Congress must be in joint session, voting separately. In the case of taxation, the constitution states that all tax measures shall emanate from the House, in which the Senate may pose it amendments thereto. In the case of impeachment, the House of Representatives is the sole body that can initiate impeachment, where the Senate stands as the impeachment court. In these cases, the constitution has been specific on the role of both Houses.
The 1935 constitution has been clear as to how the constitution was to be amended then. Section 1, Article XV of the 1935 Constitution states:
“The Congress in joint session assembled, by a vote of three-fourths of all the Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives voting separately, may propose amendments to this Constitution or call a convention for that purpose. Such amendments shall be valid as part of this Constitution when approved by a majority of the votes cast at an election at which the amendments are submitted to the people for their ratification.”
Given these, and numerous other provisions of the constitution, it must be taken that the constitution’s requirement on constitutional amendment with respect to constituent assembly is clear; it requires 3/4 of all members of Congress. It does not say “voting separately”, like it did on other provisions.
The constitution of the Philippines must be construed in a manner in which the true collective sentiments of the Filipino people are vented with ease; it must be a system that enables control of the masses rather than of the educated elite.
Perhaps the reason why this was construed in this manner is because the House of Representatives, elected in districts, represents the people at the most domestic level, and their concurrence to such measure is necessary. Whilst others claim that the provision was copied from the 1973 constitution.
If this lands to the Supreme Court, the issue is whether to adhere to the text of the constitution, or follow the constitution’s trend of mandating the Houses to vote separately. But in my opinion, the constitution is clear; it demands 3/4 vote of all its members.