If a school child plays truant, he’ll certainly get a tongue lashing from his parents or guardian and disciplinary action from school authorities. Unfortunately for us, lawmakers playing truant are not subject to any disciplinary action, except by getting a failing grade come Election Day.
The House has had difficulty mustering a quorum since the convening of the Third Regular Session of the current 16th Congress. Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. tried a new tack by publishing the names of those who had answered the roll call. He should have gone further by publishing as well the names of the perennial absentees.
I saw some familiar names on the Speaker’s list, including Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu City. Raul is now on his seventh term as legislator and he has chalked the rare and enviable record of being present in all sessions during those seven terms. Former Rep. Roilo Golez had also perfect attendance in his entire six terms as congressman representing Paranaque. (I hope he’ll run for the Senate in 2013.) Roilo had been critical of the practice of doing away with the roll call. This practice makes every congressman theoretically present even if only a handful are in the session hall or too few to constitute a quorum.
Oh well, there had been times when there was a quorum during roll call but many leave afterwards. This impelled former Rep. Oging Mercado, now governor of Southern Leyte, to propose that aside from the notation “Appeared after the roll call” in the journal, there should be another notation “Disappeared after the roll call.”
Party-List Representative Lito Atienza questioned the presence of a quorum recently after several congressmen had left the session hall, and the session was immediately adjourned. Then Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel also questioned the presence of a quorum when some majority senators left the session hall for their respective offices. This made the senators scurrying back to the session hall so the quorum would not be questioned.
In a little while, some senators returned to their offices and the irrepressible Nene again questioned the presence of a quorum. He did this three times, after which no more returned to the session hall, forcing the presiding officer to adjourn the session.
“If the majority wants us to continue working, then they should join the minority here in the session hall,” an unrepentant Nene said later.
Questioning the presence of a quorum is one of the “weapons” available to the minority in a legislative body. This was used to the hilt during the Regular Batasan, of which Nene was one of the more notable members. Oh, those fighting opposition members were really combative, and I find none more so than then MP Homobono “Bono” Adaza of Misamis Oriental, now a fellow columnist here at the Manila Times.
Bono wouldn’t give an inch to the members of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan in debates until he and his fellow oppositionists get outvoted. I remember the instance early on in the Regular Batasan when Bono might have gone beyond the bounds of parliamentary decorum when he insisted on talking even when Speaker Nicanor Yniguez had already declared him out of order. Bono stopped only when Yniguez ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to bring the Mace down to Bono’s seat. To me (I was then with the Veritas Newsmagazine), that seemed like the Mace, symbol of legislative authority, was being used to exorcise Bono.
Ah, but talking even when no longer recognized by the chair is not one of the worst instances of misbehavior by a lawmaker. Once, MP Edno Joson, still smarting from being shouted down while delivering a speech, grabbed the Armalite rifle of his security on the way out of the Batasan and fired it. The Marines who were guarding the facility immediately ducked. To the credit of Edno, he apologized on the floor the following session day.
There was another incident during the Regular Session when then MP Jose Rubin Zubiri went after the late Narciso Monfort. Zubiri was retrained but he scared Monfort enough to get emergency treatment at the Philippine Heart Center.
Do you know that in the Eighth Congress, Rep. Rufino Javier of Pasig City once challenged Speaker Ramon V. Mitra to a fight while they were at a lounge? Mitra, who used to box with inmates at Iwahig when he was young, let it go.
I HAD A DREAM: In my dream, DOTC Secretary Joseph E.A. Abaya wanted to prove to his critics that traffic at EDSA and the queues at LRT/MRT stations wasn’t as severe as pictured. He joined a queue at the Ayala MRT station and he was lynched by those who recognized him.
Hey, this is just a dream, okay?