(Article published in the Jan 3, 2007
issue of Manila Standard Today)
It looks we will soon see what Justice Adolfo Azcuna may not have foreseen
when he chose to scratch his itch to teach, a malady that I wrote about
last year. In the 15 Nov 2006 issue of this column at Manila Standard
Today, I pointed out that the good justice, in expressing his views in a
separate opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision in Lambino v. Comelec,
G.R. No. 174299, promulgated 25 October 2006, went beyond the limits of
his role as adjudicator and, in effect, taught, if not advised, the
proponents of Cha Cha what to do to achieve one their objectives.
He showed them in detail how to make a valid proposal for a
people’s initiative to establish a unicameral congress, the same form he
voted for when he was a member of the Constitutional Commission of 1986.
Now, the papers report that still President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
changed horses as 2006 ended, putting Secretary Ronnie Puno as the new
chief operative in the people’s initiative route for Cha Cha vice
Speaker Joe de V. She has
apparently scaled down her objectives (or at least decided to do it one
step at a time) by, according to Albay Congressman and Presidential
economic adviser Joey Salcedo, limiting the proposal to be pushed to
simply making the legislative body unicameral.
Of the two present chambers, it is the Senate, of course, that is
to be consigned to oblivion. After
all, it is the Senate that has always been a stumbling block to her
plans and its senators, many of whom were her former colleagues in that
house, are not willing to do her dance.
follow the still President’s marching orders, all that Secretary Ronnie
Puno has to do is to follow the road map laid out by Justice Azcuna in his
“separate” opinion. The good justice, together with the majority,
voted to dismiss the Lambino petition, but he notably did not call it
“concurring” obviously because he differed with the Carpio ponencia
on, among other items, the need to review Santiago v. Comelec, G.R. No.
127325, promulgated March 19, 1997 and June 10, 1997.
On that point, Justice Azcuna believed that the Santiago doctrine
should be re-examined; he proceeded to do his own re-examination, and
again along with other justices, concluded that R.A. No. 6735, despite its
obvious shortcomings as a legislative act, is a “sufficient and
adequate” law implementing the people’s right to directly propose
amendments to the constitution though the process of initiative.
The first thing Secretary Puno and the still President’s Kampis ought to
do, according to the separate opinion
of Justice Azcuna, is to unbundle the bag of you know what that
Speaker De Venecia and his Lakas cohorts put together.
The proposed changes in the Lambino petition, advises the good
Justice, are ‘separable in nature—a unicameral legislature is one; a
parliamentary form of government is another.”
Then, after putting asunder what De Venecia had put together,
the good Justice, proceeds to answer the question, that is yet to
be asked, and pronounces that “a change in the legislature from a
bicameral or two-chamber body to that of a unicameral or one-chamber body,
is sustainable.” Why?
Because, the good Justice elaborates, “the text of the changes needed to
carry it out are (sic) perfunctory and ministerial in nature….the
changes are simply one of deletion and insertions, the wordings of which
are practically automatic and non-discretionary.”
He thus telegraphs his vote in a future case raising the issue of
whether the proposed constitutional change is a “revision” which a
people’s initiative cannot do or only a permissible “amendment”.
Finally, lest Cha Cha adherents miss their step, they are given a model
that they can simply copy, in the form of the Appendix “A” to Justice
Azcuna’s separate opinion. Appendix “A” shows “how the
Constitution would read if we were to change Congress from one consisting
of the Senate and the House of Representatives to one consisting only of
the House of Representatives.” In approval of his own handiword, like
unto God of each of His creation, the good Justice proclaims, “these are
mere amendments, substantial ones indeed, but still only amendments and
they address only one subject matter.”
I beg to disagree. A
bicameral legislature, as I see it, is not a stand alone question of one
or two law-making chambers. It is an essential component of the principles of separation
of powers and of checks and balances that are imbedded in every crucial
turn in our constitution. It
is as part and parcel of our system as the permeating idea of separation
of governmental powers vested in three independent but interlocking departments. Fusing
legislative power in one body, I submit,
is to create a leak in the dike of checks and balances that has
been the primary defense against the waters of oppression that continually
threaten to enter our homes.
I leave it to students
of Philippine history to recall to us why the country was not enamored
with the unicameral system when twice it was in the Philippine
constitution, the first in the original set up under the 1935 constitution
and the second when we had the Batasang Pambansa, interim and otherwise.
Instead, I prefer to examine why the US, our unabashed model, went
bicameral. And here I rely
again on research material provided by a good lawyer friend from the
California Bar, Edward Ord of the Ord and Norman law office.
It appears from the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 as reported
by James Madison that untrammeled legislative authority was a major
concern. Thomas Jefferson
noted that Virginia’s unicameral legislature, like that of other states
in the union, had “assume[d] executive and judiciary powers,”
essentially becoming “the definition of a despotic government”.
It was thus strongly felt that “in order to controul (sic) the
Legislative authority, you must divide it.”
Thus, James Wilson, who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court of the
United States, maintained that “If the Legislative authority be not
restrained, there can be neither liberty or stability; and it can be
restrained by dividing it within itself, into distinct and independent
branches. In a single house
there is no check, but the inadequate one, of the virtue and good sense of
those who compose it.”( Debates, June 16, 1787).
As pointed out by many
other writers recently, the manner in which the House of Representatives
(which, by the way, was Justice Azcuna’s Appendix “A”, anointed one
to survive) sought to fast break a Con Ass without the Senate in the Ass
shows how “virtue and good sense of those who compose it” are
currently in short supply.
This division of the legislature, in our system, took the form of one
chamber being elected nationally in a staggered six year terms (to look
after the long-term good of the forest) and the other by districts in
terms of three years each (to care for short term interest of the
individual trees). As in the
US, this “Great Compromise” as it was there known, achieved the
objective of preventing the total domination by the urban centers of the
less densely populated areas
as well as promoting pluralism in both views and approaches to local and
The defining difference between the two houses was crucial to the
allocation of functions to be shared by the other departments.
For example, the essentially executive power of conducting foreign
relations, particularly entering into treaties, was to be shared, not by
the populist House of Representatives, but only by the more nationally
imbued Senate. Put another way, the representatives in the House do not
have it in them to think state-wise.
Similarly, the primarily judicial function of sitting in judgment in an
impeachment proceeding is vested not on the parochially minded Congressmen
but in the more statesmanly inspired Senators.
In other words, impeachment requires mental capability and
attitudinal qualities not to be found in the House.
I hasten to add that the unicameral legislature, in Azcuna’s Appendix
“A”, results in in one
body being both the accuser and the judge at the same time.
The good Justice approves of that principle?
With due respects, I
submit, that the spirit of bicameralism is as essential to our
constitution as division of powers among branches of government.
Removing the separation of the law-making authority into two houses
is equivalent to undermining an essential pillar of our system of
government. The change from
two to one chamber may be superficially seen as only one subject, but
since the principle behind that duality permeates the other portions of
the constitution, I submit, that giving the legislative power only to the
House of Representatives constitutes in reality a revision and not just an
amendment of the Constitution.
Just to illustrate. There is a reason why cars have two front tires. Having only one house of Congress is like designing a car with only one wheel in front. It promises to give the country the same stability and safety as a go-kart. Try driving one in the streets of the country, please.