Press Release
January 15, 2021

Transcript of interview of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III with Ms. Pinky Webb of The Source, CNN Philippines

On the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments convening into a constitutional assembly.

SP Sotto: I was informed that a House official, or their chairman of the Constitutional Amendments committee declared themselves already as a constituent assembly and of course, we in the Senate will definitely say that is not possible. For you to be able to conduct yourself or declare yourself as a constituent assembly, it is the Congress that has to do that and we are not in session, we are on recess. They will resume today, perhaps they can do that today, but definitely not in a committee and not during a recess, that is the point.

Q: I understand. Sabi ninyo nga, kailangan tama muna ang rules, kung hindi, parang tabingi. Yun ata yung tinweet, and of course, that particular statement of yours that you are on recess, kung meron man, even Majority Leader Migz Zubiri was saying even if anything can happen during recess it's only a committee hearing.

SP Sotto: Correct, it is a committee hearing and perhaps that is the recommendation of their committee, a declaration to that effect. Definitely, it is not official.

Q: I spoke to Cong. Garbin yesterday, I wanted you to listen to what he said kaya lang we have a little bit of a problem playing that statement he said. But let me read a portion of that. Kasi tinanong ko po siya, how is this a con-ass, yung nangyari Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Wednesday, ang sagot po niya ganito "well, when we speak of constituent assembly, we really need to understand the definition of a constituent assembly. It is a body authorized by the Constitution to propose amendments or revisions and the body that is authorized by the Constitution in Congress." Next, he said "the last time I know na ang aking committee ba na kung saan ako chairman, part ng Kongreso kaya nga meron kaming delegated power from the plenary, the authority to exercise and exhaust all means that a constitutional reform shall be advanced, as necessary." Is that clear to you?

SP Sotto: Yes, it is clear to me. It is clear that he is overstepping his power. That is not possible. His exact words, that they are part of Congress, correct. When you say Congress, it is the entire both Houses of Congress and the work of a committee, whatever it is, whatever you approve, must be approved by the entire Congress, I mean the House of Representatives themselves, or the House of the Senate then in becomes a committee report or a Congress approval. Therefor, a committee cannot declare itself as a constituent assembly. That is not possible.

Q: Idagdag ko lang, because hinanap ko din po yung sinabi ni Cong. Garbin. He said "siguro, kailangan lang aralin yung Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution," I think he is referring to Article 17 of the Constitution. "If you have a copy of the Constitution, pustahan tayo wala diyang nagsasabi na magconvene muna as constituent assembly." And I did read Article 17 of the Constitution. It is true though, that wala po talagang nahahanap doon na constituent assembly. Ang nakasulat lang talaga, it is very simple, it says "Article 17: Any amendment to or revision of this Constitution may be proposed by 1) the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members or 2) a constitutional convention. Do you submit na wala talagang nakasulat na doon sa Article 17 na constituent assembly.

SP Sotto: Of course, it is not written because it is implied. Common sense, it is implied. You cannot be a constituent assembly when you are a committee. Common sense. Your committee must take it up in plenary and the Congress, the House of Representatives, will declare itself as part of a constituent assembly. Again, part, because the other half is the House of the Senate.

Q: Ganito po. Ang pinag basehan po kasi nitong cha-cha sa House, was Resolution of both Houses No. 2 by then Cong. Lord Alan Velasco kasi 2019 niya ito ipinasa and then of course, ngayon Speaker na siya. In that Resolution of both Houses No. 2, nakasulat nga po doon na the two chambers, voting separately, so that alone, speaks of a con-ass hindi po ba? And if that is the basis of the House hearing on cha-cha, then it becomes quite clear that it is implied that it is a constituent assembly.

SP Sotto: Yes, but parliamentary procedures dictate that they take it up in plenary. That it is the House of Representatives who will say that they have approved the resolution. They are talking of the resolution that they did not even approve on the floor. They are talking of a resolution that was filed, it is a simple resolution filed, therefor it is the committee only that is approving the resolution. We are on recess, how can the House of Representatives approve that resolution, they are on recess? Parliamentary procedures and rules dictate that a resolution is not approved until it is approved on the floor in plenary.

Q: What happens if the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, what if they insist that what they are doing, or they are already being part of a constituent assembly, what can the Senate do about that?

SP Sotto: We won't do anything about it. It is up to them, if they want to insist that their committee has declared itself as a constituent assembly already, if somebody takes it up with the Supreme Court, I am very confident that the Supreme Court will throw it into the trashcan of history.

Q: Kayo po ba ang nagsabi na bakit parang nagmamadali?

SP Sotto: Correct. Why not wait today? Bakit hindi ninyo gawin today, hindi ba? Bring it to the floor today and then approve it on the floor today, then you have declared yourself as a constituent assembly, not in a committee.

Q: And just to understand the process again, if they take it up on the floor and they are able to pass this in plenary, the second hurdle will have to be still the Senate. There is already a resolution also in the Senate passed by Senators Tolentino and Bato Dela Rosa and there, it is also asking the House to convene as a constituent assembly to propose amendments or revisions to the Constitution, hindi po ba?

SP Sotto: Yes. I referred it to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. It is there in the committee right now.

Q: I also interviewed Sen. Kiko Pangilinan and sabi po niya, ang kanyang suggestion is magkaroon ng all-senators caucus on this. Is this something you agree with? Mag usap-usap po muna kayo on charter change and everything that covers charter change, or palagay ninyo pwede nang diretso sa constitutional amendments pagusapan ito?

SP Sotto: Before I do that, I would want to correct myself, I said wait today. I had at the back of my mind because we are having a hearing at 10 o'clock that we are starting sessions today. Why don't they wait on Monday, I should say? Monday, January 18, when we resume, then they can declare themselves ito a constituent assembly in plenary, not in a committee. I stand corrected. At the back of my mind, I thought we were convening today because of the... or resuming today, I thought it was Monday. It is the hearing of the Committee of the Whole in the Senate. Alright, going to your question, yes, there was a suggestion of Sen. Pangilinan that I call an all-senators caucus. I made some calls even about two weeks ago when the resolution was brought up... more than two weeks ago. It was late last year when the President gave us the idea or suggested the idea of calling for a constituent assembly in order to address the concerns that he mentioned. I took it upon myself to talk to the other members of the majority. I did not discuss it with the minority itself, but I did discuss it with Sen. Drilon, As a matter of fact, Sen. Drilon knew, as the minority leader, knew that I was talking to my colleagues and we were discussing it. We talked about the procedures, we talked about the possibilities of if ever we do so, we need three-fourths vote to approve any amendment to that effect and of course we will definitely insist on voting separately, we will insist that nothing is taken up outside of the economic provisions, but that was it. It was just plain talk; we did not arrive on anything concrete. And so, if there is a call or request for me to call for an all-senators caucus on the matter, we will. Perhaps I will, after the House acts on it. If they do approve it in plenary and they declared themselves into a constituent assembly properly, then we will discuss the matter as a whole, sa Senate.

Q: I think the operative word there was when you said properly. Yun po bang cha-cha, dalawa po ang nakikita natin so far: economic provisions and improving or strengthening the partylist law and I know you are filing or have filed a resolution on this. Just quickly on economic provisions, personally, are you in favor of easing economic restrictions?

SP Sotto: Marami yun eh. Marami yung economic provisions and restrictions na dapat i-tackle and right now there is a bill pending in the Senate which is called the trade liberalization bill. Kung ganoon, medyo magiging mabusisi pa rin and so I agree with the suggestion of former Speaker Sonny Belmonte that a simple line being added into the Constitution on specifically the economic provisions would do it: "as may be provided by law." Let's go back, the partylist system was only enabled by an enabling law. In the Constitution it is merely mentioned and says that there must be an enabling law. There are about, if I am not mistaken, more than four or five points in the Constitution that are mentioned as depending on an enabling law or it should be enacted through an enabling law. May mga ganoon and forgive me if I think that nung araw kasi, when they were doing the Constitution they were quite in a hurry, and so instead of debating on all those points, they just placed it there. Therefor, yung sa partylist system needed an enabling law. It was the Committee on Electoral Reforms during our time in the 10th or 11th Congress, I cannot recall right now the exact Congress, but it was Sen. Raul Roco who sponsored it and I was his vice-chairman, and we were confining it to the marginalized sector, Republic Act 7941. We enabled it, therefor, if we tinker with it in the Constitution, what do we do? We will remove that, when what we can do right now is to amend the enabling law. I told that to the President. I immediately answered him with that when he was mentioning the issue on the partylist system, that we take it up also with the constituent assembly. I suggested, I said that "Mayor, why don't we just look into the enabling law and amend the enabling law?" And he said that he was worried, baka dalhin lang sa Supreme Court yan, madedelay, matatagalan, something to that effect. We did not finish the issue. Hindi kami, kung baga sa salita sa Tagalog, hindi kami nagtapos sa usapin na yun. Anyway, going to the economic provisions as you were asking, as may be provided by law, Congress may be able to tackle one by one the different issues and not just a general opening of the economic provisions. So right now, that is my suggestion, I leave it to the other members of Congress, of both Houses, to accept it or not. Let's see. It is up for debate right now.

Q: Are you saying that we need charter change to be able to ease the economic restrictions and fix the partylist system or sinasabi ninyo, hindi na kailangan yan, kailangan lang natin gumawa ng legislation para ilagay yung "otherwise provided by law," doon sa economic provisions, and then again, an ordinary legislation to strengthen the partylist system?

SP Sotto: Offhand, I have yet to be convinced that we need a charter change. When you say kasi charter change, you have to change the Constitution. You are changing the Constitution, not just charter amendments. So, right now, I am not convinced that we need a charter change or cha-cha. Perhaps we need 'cha-cha,' character change, that is what the country needs, CHA-CHA din yun but different pronunciation. Anyway, charter amendments would probably be acceptable particularly on economic provisions but then again, as I said, lumawak masyado, ibang usapan, but yung sinasabi ko na "as may be provided by law," when we take it up like a regular bill or law, mas madaling pagusapan. There is no room for apprehensions on term limits or extension of terms, or other issues that might not be acceptable to the people. Limitado lang talaga at saka malinis, maliwanag na yun, we will definitely be voting separately because they pass the bill on their side, we pass it on our side, then we ask the President to approve it and then nit turns into a plebiscite. Because any change to the Constitution or any amendment to the Constitution must undergo a plebiscite and therefor if we want to do this, a simple one-liner amendment we can include it in the 2022 elections without cost to the people or to the government.

Q: I am still a little confused about that. So, if you add that one line, "unless otherwise provided by law," ano po ba yun, is that ordinary legislation or do you have to convene as a constitutional assembly to add that line?

SP Sotto: It takes the form of an ordinary legislation, but it could be amending the Constitution itself. The (unclear) has done that so many times, they have never changed the Constitution, but they have amended their... anyway...

Q: I know you will also file legislation to strengthen the partylist groups, when is this going to be filed, or has this been filed?

SP Sotto: I am on the verge of finishing the draft. We are soon filing it. By next week, I will be filing it. I will try my best to go back to the original intention when Sen. Roco sponsored the bill enabling the partylist system, we will go back there. Marginalized. Sino ba ang marginalized, di ba? Yun bang tunay na marginalized at hindi na sumobra ang lawak, which is ang original intention was the urban poor, the farmers, labor, women, youth, and indigenous people, yun yung original eh. Unless otherwise gusto nilang magdagdag, pero that is the real marginalized sector of our society that the original intention of the Constitution was for.

Q: Would you say it has been abused?

SP Sotto: Oh yes, definitely it was misinterpreted by both COMELEC and an interpretation decision by the Supreme Court.

On the Senate Committee of the Whole.

Q: There is a question on how much Sinovac is, are you going to press officials today to disclose how much this is? Because it was saying it was one of the most expensive, and then Sec. Roque was saying it was not the most expensive, it was actually among the middle of the six vaccines that could be made available here in the country.

SP Sotto: Kaya nga, if it is not the most expensive, how much is it? Why don't you tell us, hindi ba? Because it is the people, let me be very blunt about this, it is the people who are worried. It is not us, it is not the Senate, so yung mga namimintas na bakit daw kami naghe-hearing, ang publiko ang humihingi nito eh. They want to be clarified; they want to know more. Some are afraid, di ba? So, the lingering questions that will be taken up in a few minutes would center on the issue of is this really cheaper, the first vaccine we will receive is really cheaper? We want to hear from the, this time we are not hearing from government lang, we are hearing from the private sector. We are hearing from Zuellig, we are hearing from Pfizer, we are hearing from Unilab, and then the Philippine Medical Association, the LGUs, we will be centering on them today. We want to hear more from them, and then we let Sec. Galvez and Sec. Duque react to what they will hear from these resource persons, so we can finalize more or less and give the assurance to the people that what government is going to do is safe secure, di ba? Yun ang mahalaga.

Q: But will you compel them to disclose the amount of Sinovac and will you tell the public the cost of this?

SP Sotto: Yes, it is found on the internet, I don't know why they cannot tell us publicly, but if they refuse and they say it is confidential, then we can go into an executive session as suggested by the Majority Leader, Sen. Zubiri. We go into an executive session and ask them to tell us what these confidential matters are.

Q: Do you think a price would be confidential in nature? Should it be confidential? I remember Sen. Zubiri saying this is public funds.

SP Sotto: I don't think so, it should not be confidential. Bakit confidential? And now that there are other vaccines that are available, let's make it all available, let's make them all available. Also, by the way, if I may take this opportunity, later on, I will be asking the Philippine Medical Association bakit, masyado ba tayo talagang umaasa sa vaccine? Bakit hindi medication? There are two or three countries that I have heard na hindi na sila takot kahit may vaccine or wala, kasi they found the medicine to cure. Para kang may sipon, may ubo, may lagnat, pero may gamot para doon. Hindi ka natatakot magkaroon ng sipon or ubo, di ba? Baka naman pwedeng tanungin natin ang PMA tungkol diyan. How are we into also finding a medical cure, not just a vaccine because the vaccine will last how long, sabi nila six months? One year? Thereafter, ano, magpapa inoculate tayo ulit, hindi ba? So perhaps we can dwell into these matters, also during the hearing later.

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