House leaders were dismayed Monday when the Senate postponed — at the last minute and without an explanation — a hearing on their resolution calling for Charter Change.
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the House committee on constitutional amendments, expressed dismay at the postponement over the Senate’s last-minute postponement of its hearing without sufficient time to notify invited resource persons.
“I was already prepared to go to the Senate today at 10 a.m. to present to the senators the basis of our RBH 6 and HB 7352, which were all data-driven, evidence-based, and future-proof,” said Rodriguez, who was invited to the hearing.
He was referring to Resolution of Both Houses 6, which calls for the convening of a constitutional convention to propose changes in the Charter’s economic provisions, and House Bill 7352, which implements the resolution.
On Sunday, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said Zubiri assured him that the Senate would give Charter Change a chance.
He said Zubiri assured him that he would keep an open mind on the move of the House of Representatives to institute economic reforms through constitutional amendments.
“He informed me that the Senate is awaiting the report of their committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes chaired by Senator Robinhood Padilla, for appropriate plenary action,” Romualdez said.
He also said Zubiri said his colleagues were contemplating res-scheduling the hearing.
But Rodriguez said there was no reason given for the cancellation of the Senate hearing in the notice he received.
He said he read from media reports the assurances of Padilla, his Senate counterpart, that Monday’s hearing would be held as scheduled.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte echoed the appeal of his fellow legislators to the Senate leadership to allow a grand debate on Charter Change and attend to it “with a similar sense of urgency, out of consideration for its supermajority support in the House of Representatives and given the fact that a majority of them were once members of this bigger chamber.”
Thirteen senators had been elected to the House at one time or another in the past.
Padilla told a news conference on Friday that aside from Rodriguez, he had requested other House members to attend his panel’s hearing.
He also appealed to other senators to listen to what congressmen would do.
“I wish members of the Senate would listen to what the [House members] are pushing for. I just want to be fair. I don’t want the House to think that I prevented their efforts,” he said.
Padilla added that he hoped other senators would find time to listen to constitutional economic reform advocates in the House.
On Monday, Zubiri said he had asked Padilla to postpone his invitation to House members as resource persons.
Traditionally, he noted that the Senate does not invite incumbent members of Congress as resource persons, as they are accorded interparliamentary courtesy, being members of a co-equal branch of the legislature.
“We usually invite representatives as guests, not resource persons, particularly on discussions of local bills,” Zubiri said.
Being a neophyte senator, Padilla may not yet be fully aware of the traditions and practices of both chambers, Zubiri added.
“But this tradition is to protect him and his committee as well, as we want to avoid a scenario in which conflicting opinions and heated arguments may take place, putting the chairperson in a bind, particularly on how to rule on such discussions,” Zubiri said.
He said he was not standing in the way of the committee hearings.
“We are only hewing to longstanding traditions of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Speaker Romualdez and I spoke yesterday, and he also agreed that that tradition should remain and that interparliamentary courtesy should be respected,” he added.
Padilla said he merely heeded the directive of Zubiri, the Senate leader.
Aside from interparliamentary courtesy, Padilla also said Zubiri did not want to create the public impression that they would have a joint session on Charter change.
“I told him that I’m open to meeting with the leaders of the House of Representatives on this issue, and having thorough discussions about it,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri said they heeded the call of Rep. Elpidio Barzaga for a ceasefire on heated discussions on Charter change.
Zubiri said Barzaga called the leadership of both Houses of Congress to hold a caucus, where they can have a productive discussion on the matter, rather than have everyone airing their grievances in public.
“This is the reason why I asked Senator Robinhood Padilla to postpone his invitation to our representatives as resource persons,” Zubiri said.
He said he remained open to the idea of constitutional amendments.
“We are not closing our doors for a meeting. It doesn’t mean that my position has changed. It only means that we want to discuss further with them how to go about this,” Zubiri said.
The Senate leader also said he is only one senator.
“Why not… ask the other senators their opinions?” he said.