Senate must vote separately

Today’s column of Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, titled “Jointly or separately” makes interesting read although at least one earlier column has been written on the same theme. This time, Bernas runs down possible ‘approaches in dealing with the text of the Constitution’.

Bernas made crystal clear distinctions. The historical analyzes the intention of the framers and circumstances of its ratification. The structural draws inferences from the architecture of the power relationships in the constitutional arrangement. The doctrinal simply follows earlier judicial decisions (doctrine of stare decisis). The ethical seeks to interpret the Filipino ‘ideals and aspirations’ embedded in the document. The prudential weighs or compares the costs and benefits found in conflicting rules.

To his advice, Bernas deems combined historical and structural approaches helpful.

Citing pertinent historical dates, such as the debates on July 7 & 8, 1986 over provision on amendment and revision, Bernas alluded to a preference for a unicameral legislature. Apparently however, this was not so when the Constitutional Commission on July 28, 1986 voted to go bicameral with a vote of 23-22. So Bernas is saying that something designed for a unicameral is now used for a bicameral.

Still however, Bernas can readily supply the arguments at the reasons the framers of the Constitution went bicameral, to wit: 1). an upper house looks at problems from national perspective; 2). bicameralism allows more careful study; 3). bicameralism is less vulnerable to attempts of the executive to control legislature. So, he simply added to explain that ‘two heads can be better than one’. That any change done through a bicameral body must be accomplished through the most thorough decision-making, it being a two-step process.

With the prevailing suspicion of GMA pushing her own agenda, true or not, Bernas believes that bicameralism provides the ‘purification’. Bernas made admission that he voted for unicameral during those debates but glad that his side lost especially looking at the current House of Representatives now. Thus, since Congress is bicameral, it must act as bicameral.

This conclusion in fact bolsters his preliminary supposition at the start of his essay on the role of Senate in Charter change. Indeed, there seems no question that Senate is part of the process.

However, Bernas finds the constitutional text as not very helpful or this which says, “Any amendment or revision of this Constitution may be proposed by Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members…” Thus, he went to discuss on this textual ambiguity. This means that provisions on the one hand require Congress to vote jointly as other provisions on the other require Congress to vote jointly. In both cases, they are so indicated in the Constitution rather unequivocally.

Thus, those various approaches as aids to constitutional interpretation when faced with textual ambiguity were authoritatively suggested by Bernas. However, if there is at least one statement made that is left unclear is when Bernas said – “One might also add that voting jointly is so unique for a bicameral body that it is allowed only in one specific instance”.

I take it as Bernas’ own predisposition that at least in the light of the 1109, the same ought to be voted upon separately. In saying so, I sure distinctly can recall to mind that in fact, Bernas raised this point of view during the second committee hearing at the House when him and Associate Justice Mendoza were present as resource persons. Thus, we better hope the hardline 1109 adherents do not take the Senate for granted and give it all the space it needs – the right to vote upon Charter change – separately, but never jointly.