By Hannah Torregoza
Despite President Duterte’s preference for a unicameral legislative body, his allies in the Senate reiterated their belief that a bicameral Congress is still the ideal parliamentary system for the country.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said the Senate’s high approval ratings in surveys show that the Upper Chamber’s legislative work is relevant.
“Nakakarating sa mga kababayan natin na nagta-trabaho kami dito. Ganun ibig sabihin nun. Sana yung mga sinasabi nila sa ratings makarating sa mga member ng House para ma-realize nila na teka muna, masyadong relevant yung grupo, masyadong trusted ng mga kababayan natin. Bakit nating gagawing unicameral? Buburahin natin?
“Baka isagot sa kanila nung iba, dapat yung mabababa ang rating ang burahin. So huwag naman ganun di ba?” Sotto pointed out in an interview with reporters.
“Palagay ko kung ano man ang pag-usapan nila, kung ipipilit pa rin yung Constituent Assembly (ConAss), bicameral pa rin ang ideal. Kahit all over the world eh yung mga unicameral laging nagkakaroon ng sakit ng ulo eh. Yung parliamentary bicameral yun ang maganda, because pwede mo talagang ilagay sa Constitution niyo kung ano lang ang functions ng Higher House sa Lower House,” Sotto said.
Sotto further cautioned House lawmakers against espousing a unicameral legislature saying it may be easy at first, but may have ramifications in the long run.
“Baka lang medyo nabibigla lang yung iba nating kasama na naiisip na mas maganda ang unicameral. Mas madali. Mas madali ring magkamali,” he said.
“Kaya mabagal ang Senado, slow but sure. As a matter of fact, kapag sinabing mabagal kami, I treat it as compliment rather than criticism because ibig sabihin nag-aaral kami at pinag-aaralan namin (ng mabuti ang mga batas).
“I can say this, because look at the ratings. Nararamdaman ng tao yun eh, nakikita ng tao yun. Di ganun kadali yung naiisip nila,” said Sotto, pointing to the high approval ratings the Senate is getting in various surveys.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson has earlier filed a resolution calling for the creation of the Senate into a constituent assembly (ConAss) to propose amendments to or revise the 1987 Constitution.
Sotto said he would be supporting Lacson’s resolution. “I will not only support it. I will ask to be co-author on the floor now,” Sotto said.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito echoed Sotto’s argument saying that a bicameral legislature is essential to maintaining check and balance in democracy.
“Legislative work is not about how fast one can pass a law or how many laws a chamber can pass. Legislation is about passing quality laws that will address the needs of the people. It is about the quality of debate and not the speed of passage of laws,” Ejercito said.
Ejercito pointed out that in the Philippine political history, a bicameral legislature has also prevented the excessive exercise of power by the Executive branch.
“While Presidents might find it easier to control one house, it is more difficult to influence both chambers,” he said.
Ejercito also said the proposed shift to federalism is the strongest argument for a bicameral legislature. He said bicameralism ensures the representation of the interests of individual states and provinces, as well as the population of the entire country.
“That is why the United States, Germany and other federal states have bicameral legislatures—one chamber based on representation by population and the second chamber based on regional units,” he stressed.
Lacson, however, said it is too early to decide on the matter since they have yet to hear all arguments and counter-arguments on the issue of having a unicameral congress.
“I would rather have an open mind on this issue using my own research as well as listening to the input of the others,” Lacson said.
“Having said that, establishing a unicameral body does not necessarily mean abolition of the Senate for it can, likewise, be argued that it is the Lower House that is being abolished,” he pointed out.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero shared Lacson’s view saying he too, wants to hear first the pros and cons of having a unicameral legislature and retaining a bicameral congress.
“I haven’t seen any concrete and definite proposals; just concepts and ideas. As I said, the first order of business is to convene the Commission to study possible amendments to the Constitution,” Escudero said.
“I am sure that there are a lot of people who have their respective ideas of what they perceive need to be amended in the Constitution and all of these need to be vetted and studied bearing in mind one basic question: how will the people—not politicians—benefit?” he pointed out.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said he strongly supports a bicameral Congress to maintain the system of check and balance.
“I believe that we should retain the bicameral Congress to maintain the check and balance system between the Senate and the House,” Drilon said.
“We respect the President’s view being the political leader of our country. But having said that, huwag po nating kalimutan that the constitutional amendment is basically a function and prerogative of Congress,” he said.
Nevertheless, Drilon said that not only will the Senate resist a unicameral congress, they will also reject any attempts to abolish the Office of the Vice President (OVP), which is stated under the draft penned by the PDP-Laban the ruling administration party.
“That is their proposal. I don’t agree with that. We do not agree with that. The Vice President is an important part of our system of governance and the constitutional succession to the President,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the Senate minority bloc will likewise, support Lacson’s resolution: “Any system that would provide for separate voting, we will support.”