Unless the Senate is crudely bypassed by the House and the Supreme Court OKs it
Analysis by Raïssa Robles
Monsod, who helped frame the 1987 Constitution, explained that seven is the required number of senators to refuse to back charter change.
From what I have personally seen of Senate procedures, the seven senators can show their rejection of cha-cha in three ways. First, by casting a NO VOTE. Second, by being present but simply NOT CASTING A VOTE or SAYING THEY ABSTAIN FROM VOTING. And third, by being absent during the voting.
It’s because any charter change move through Congress has to hurdle the constitutional requirement of a 3/4 vote.
Since this section of the 1987 Constitution has never been actually used, the ordinary interpretation of a 3/4 vote is hotly contested.
However, no less than the head and three members of the Consultative Committee that cobbled together President Rodrigo Duterte’s draft Federal Constitution have recently affirmed the ordinary interpretation of this section.
In a Senate hearing this week on the draft #FedCon, no less than retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno—the #FedCon head—affirmed that the 3/4 vote means the Lower House and the Senate voting 3/4 separately as two bodies and not as a whole.
In the same hearing chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan (@kikopangilinan on Twitter), former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., Prof. Edmund Tayao and Prof. Julio Teehankee all separately agreed with Justice Puno’s interpretation of the 1987 Constitution on cha-cha voting.
Assuming they are all correct, 3/4 vote in the Senate means that cha-cha needs 18 YES VOTES.
However, there is a wrinkle. There are now only 23 senators since Alan Peter Cayetano resigned to become foreign secretary. The Constitution is not clear whether 3/4 vote means 3/4 of all the current members ( which is 23) or 3/4 of the 24-member Senate.
If it is 3/4 of 23 existing members, then cha-cha only needs 17 votes. But if it is 3/4 of 24 members, cha-cha needs 18 votes.
Let us just assume, for the sake of argument, that the #FedCon cha-cha needs 17 votes because there are only 23 senators.
In order to stop cha-cha, the number of YES votes should not reach 17 but only 16.
That means, with 23 members of the Senate, SEVEN SENATORS should not cast a YES VOTE.
This is why Monsod called these senators THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Monsod was probably inspired by a 1960s western movie with that title.
Let’s see now whether Duterte can gather 17 votes in the Senate for his #FedCon.
From analysis. I THINK NOT.
At the moment, Duterte can probably rely on 10 senators to vote YES to his cha-cha.
- Joel Villanueva
- Senate President Vicente Sotto III
- Richard Gordon
- Miguel Zubiri
- Manny Pacquiao
- Sherwin Gatchalian
- Francis Escudero
- Gregorio Honasan
- Loren Legarda
- Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III
Although three other senators are Duterte allies, we can’t be sure yet if they would vote YES since they are up for reelection next year. Should they win, any charter change could cut their fresh six-year terms to only three years. Who would want to pay for an expensive nationwide campaign and only get three years in office?
They might agree, though, if the Duterte camp offers to foot the bill for their reelection:
- Nancy Binay
- Joseph Victor Ejercito
- Cynthia Villar
So Duterte can get 13.
How about the FOUR MORE VOTES he needs?
Let’s do some math.
Out of the remaining 10 senators, SIX would probably not vote yes since they are with the political opposition. The #dilawan, as they are insultingly called by officials of the Presidential Communications Office:
- Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon
- Francis Pangilinan
- Risa Hontiveros
- Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV
- Antonio Trillanes
- Leila de Lima
Ordinarily, the jailed Senator de Lima’s vote would not matter. Approving laws requires a senator to be present to cast a vote.
But in the case of cha-cha, by merely occupying a Senate post, De Lima is in effect casting a NO VOTE.
So that leaves Duterte shopping for votes from these four remaining senators:
- Panfilo Lacson
- Ralph Recto
- Edgardo Angara
- Grace Poe
But since he only has 13 votes so far and he needs FOUR MORE VOTES to reach the 17 votes required by the Constitution, this means ALL FOUR REMAINING SENATORS have to VOTE YES to #FedCon.
My years of covering Philippine politics have shown me that nothing is impossible.
As Monsod said, it is all up to The Magnificent Seven to stop cha-cha. This means, only one of the remaining four can complete the seven needed to stop cha-cha.
However, the House might just go ahead with cha-cha and crudely say that the Constitution should be interpreted as both congressional bodies voting JOINTLY instead of the separately.
And the Supreme Court might affirm that interpretation.
In that case, anything goes.
If, as some think, charter change is just a disguise for a crude coup setting up a dictatorship, then history has shown that would-be dictators aren’t usually stopped by trifling things such as legal niceties.