March 5, 2024

As of this writing, the people’s initiative (PI) for charter change proponents say they have reached the 12.1 percent threshold as per Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda in a The Daily Tribune report.
To amend the Constitution through PI, proponents should gather at least 12 percent of voters nationwide, or three percent from each of the 254 legislative districts.
As to how the number was obtained, I am bothered, bewitched, and bewildered, as well as how it reached Baguio or even Benguet as I have not heard of any such activity. Even the Senate issued a strongly-worded manifesto to express opposition to the ongoing PI purportedly carried out by members of the House of Representatives.
The PI aims to revise the constitutional provision that directs the chambers of Congress to vote separately when modifying the Charter – eliminate the Senate from the equation. Of course, if the House and Senate vote as one, overwhelmingly the House wins.
The Lower House and the Senate cannot seem to have a meeting of the minds on the phrase “Congress, upon a vote of three-fourth of all its members”, which really does not specify whether Congress is to vote jointly or separately to pass amendments as a constituent assembly (con-ass). Proponents want “voting should be joint, and thinks it can proceed without the Senate and still obtain the needed supermajority.”
Under the ordinary process of a bill becoming a law, voting separately is the norm for Congress. Logically, since we have a bicameral legislature, charter changes follow the same rule. This was emphasized by the Supreme Court in Avelino as well as Chavez vs. JBC when it ruled that “the exercise of legislative and constituent powers requires the Senate and House of Representatives to coordinate and act as distinct bodies in furtherance of Congress’ role under the constitutional scheme.”
Statutory Construction professors would probably advise us to refer to the principles of constitutional construction on what the intention of the framers wanted to arrive at an answer.
First, “verbalegis”, as applied, the words used in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning. What you see is what you get, except where technical terms are employed. Guided by the plain meaning rule, it may be argued that the term Congress under Article XVII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution should be interpreted as referring to the two separate bodies of Congress.
Now, when there is ambiguity, resort to “ratio legisest anima.” What is the intent of its framers? Separately, as held by the SC in Sanidad vs. Comelec that “the power to propose amendments is but a part of legislative powers. Hence, inasmuch as the manner of voting in the exercise of legislative powers is done separately, the exercise of constituent powers should likewise be voted on separately.”
Finally, the Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole. “Ut magis valeat quampereat.”
Section 18, Article VII is the only article that specifies that Congress be allowed to vote jointly when it is revoking or extending the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
By the maxim “expressiouniusest exclusion alterius” (when one or more things of a class are expressly mentioned others of the same class are excluded. Example is a rule, “no dogs allowed”which means that lions are allowed but guide dogs are excluded.).
Justice Isagani Cruz opines that when Congress convenes as a “constituent assembly,” it is performing a function that is not legislative in nature.
In Gonzales vs. Comelec, when members of the Senate and the House exercise their powers to propose amendments or revisions, they act not as members of Congress doing legislative work but as members of a con-ass.
Acting therefore as members of the Constituent Assembly and not as legislators, Congress should vote jointly, as in implied by the phrase “all members of Congress.” Nosebleed, pootik!