If you think the Senate performance in the First Regular Session is woeful, think again. On March 4, 2014, while the Senate was holding its 61st session, the House was meeting for just its 54th session. The reason for the fewer session days is simple—a big, big problem securing a quorum.
Actually, the number of session days of the House should have been fewer had the majority leader been calling for a roll call in every session day. With the simple expedient of dispensing with the roll call, a quorum to transact business is presumed to exist and all congressmen are deemed present.
There were no roll calls on July 31, August 14, September 16, September 17, October 21, November 18, November 19, November 24, November 25 and November 26. That means Session No. 29 held on Nov. 26 should have been Session No. 19 had there been a regular roll call. In those session days, the majority leader moved at the start of the session to defer the roll call but later moved to adjourn without it.
A roll call ranks first in the Order of Business of the House but this is rarely followed. From the House journals that I had read, a roll call at the start of the session was made only on July 22, 2013 when the Sixteenth Congress held its inaugural session. Incidentally, Rep. Jules Ledesma of Negros Occidental was the only congressman absent in that inaugural session. He was also absent at the opening of the Third Regular Session of the 14th Congress on July 28, 2010. However, he was “represented” in that occasion by his wife, the former actress Assunta de Rossi. The approval of the switch by many congressmen was not surprising. What’s surprising is that Ledesma has never lost an election even if he is consistently tops in absenteeism.
In fairness to the present House leadership, dispensing with the roll call is not of recent vintage although I think it was seldom done in the Eighth Congress (1987-1992). The doing away with the roll call sometimes had incredible results. In the Third Regular Session of the 10th Congress, Rep. Elias Lopez Sr. of Davao City was credited with having attended all 61 session days up to February 28, 1998 although he died in January 1998. Only in the Philippine House of Representatives?
But wait! The “presence” of the dead Lopez is not the only one that qualifies for “Believe It or Not.” Equally unbelievable is the case of former Rep. Romeo Jalosjos of Zamboanga del Norte who was recorded by the House journal as being present in 45 of 61 session days also of the Third Regular Session of the 10th Congress. As for the 16 session days he failed to attend, the journal notation explained that Jalosjos was “absent with notice” in 14 session days and “absent without notice” in two session days.
What’s odd about Jalosjos’ attendance record was that he had been in jail since the start of the Third Regular Session (July 28, 1997) on a non-bailable charge of raping a minor. He never attended a single session but he still got credited with being present in 45 session days! This indicated that roll call had been dispensed with 45 times.
Ah, but I’m digressing from the abysmal performance of the present House. Do you know that when the House went on recess last March 12, it had not yet completed the organization of its standing committees? A congressman attributed this to power play within the chamber.
The House can enumerate its “achievements” despite the frequent lack of quorum and the failure to fill up the standing committees but I’m not impressed. These “achievements” were the result of parliamentary hocus-pocus that makes the measures’ passage faster than a Bullet train. Take for instance the approval of 14 bills on third and final reading on March 5. Unlike common parliamentary practice on voting on third reading where the bills were voted on individually, the 14 bills were subjected to only two voting—the first voting, for three bills, and the second, 11.
In the same session day, the House adopted numerous resolutions without reading their texts. Not only that, the majority leader made successive motions of adopting their explanatory notes as sponsorship remarks, terminating the period of sponsorship and debate, terminating the period of amendment and approving them on second reading thru viva voce voting.
Correction: In my last column, I wrote that the Senate met for 1 hour 35 minutes in Session No. 40. The correct time is 1 hour 38 minutes.