A recent CNN article mentioned:
“On Monday, Alvarez said there is no need to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly because such is not required under the Constitution.
He added what is stated in the Constitution is “any amendment or revision of this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress upon a vote of three fourths of all its members.”
Alvarez said the number of House members is enough to comply with the three-fourths requirement – hence, they can already propose amendments or revisions in the Constitution even without the 23 senators.”
Based on the article, our Speaker raises two arguments to prove that the Legislature we have is, contrary to popular belief, actually unicameral, rather than bicameral.
- The first argument can be stated in the following manner: (1) The Constitution provides the manner by which the Constitution can be amended or revised; (2) a Constituent Assembly is not mentioned by the Constitution; therefore (3) a Constituent Assembly is not one of the ways to amend or revise Constitution.
- The second argument (regarding voting) can likewise be stated in the following manner: (1) A vote of three-fourths of all Members of Congress is needed to propose an amendment or revision of the Constitution; (2) “all Members of Congress” means all members of the House of Representatives (297) and the Senate (23) taken together (297 + 23 = 320) without distinction or qualification; (3) therefore, three-fourths of 320 (240) may be satisfied from the House of Representatives, alone.
The Speaker is totally wrong on both arguments. It is, however, important to first cite the relevant provision in the Constitution regarding proposing amendments or revisions. Article XVII, Sec. 1 of the 1987 Constitution provides:
SECTION 1. 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.
Does the Constitution really say there is a need to provide for a Constituent Assembly? No, the Constitution doesn’t expressly mention the words “Constituent Assembly.” So does that mean Congress can immediately go ahead and propose amendments? No. This conclusion can be reached after understanding the kind of power Congress wields to do that specific act – amending or revising constitutions. Already we have heard of the “Big 3” of constitutional powers – executive, judicial, and legislative. There is, however, a fourth: constituent power. This fourth power is the power to write, amend, and revise constitutions. As such, it’s clear that it cannot be lumped in with the Big 3 since the latter are all powers that stem from the Constitution. To say, for example, that constituent power is part of ordinary legislation would be tantamount to thinking one can fly by pulling on one’s shoes. Plenary legislative power arises from the Constitution, and not the other way around. Hence, in order for Congress to amend or revise the Constitution, something more than ordinary legislative power is required. That something more is found in Art. XVII, Sec. 1 – the ways Congress wields constituent power. Now, to the point that no “Constituent Assembly” is mentioned, the cheeky retort would be that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. No matter how we call it, Congress must convene itself into some X that wields not ordinary legislative power but constituent power.
While the first argument concerns Congress as a whole, the second argument goes into its bicameral nature. The 1987 Constitution created a bicameral Congress, i.e., one with two houses: that of the House of Representatives and that of the Senate. Together these two Houses compose Congress. Therefore, we have a Congress, which is composed of two Houses, which, in turn, are composed of their respective members. Looking at the argument, the only problematic premise in the argument appears to be (2) which lumps members of both houses without distinction. This can be easily refuted with logic and a basic understanding of English.
The prepositional phrase “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members” modifies a specific noun, “the Congress.” Since Congress is composed of two subsets, House of Representatives and the Senate, the prepositional phrase should likewise modify both subsets. The expanded form, therefore, of the prepositional phrase is “upon a vote of three-fourths of all Members of the House of Representatives and three-fourths of all Members of the Senate.” To hold otherwise would be to ignore the bicameral nature of Congress (even if that is a popular pastime of our Speaker).
It is also worthwhile to mention that Fr. Bernas, citing the Records of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (I RECORD 375), wrote, “It should be understood that the two houses of Congress vote separately.”
So the clear answer to the title is no, the House can’t amend the Constitution alone.