The House majority, not so super after all


    FILIPINO legislators should be more discerning about the terms they use to describe their self-serving and often crass concoctions and stratagems.

    Take the term “House super-majority” that was used to describe the coalition of lawmakers who constituted the majority that elected Pantaleon Alvarez as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 17th Congress.

    The suffix “super” leads the public to believe that the chamber can do a lot of wonderful things, like the super heroes in the comics and blockbuster movies. It misrepresents the process of legislation as magical and easy, when in fact it is long, laborious and contentious.

    Worse, it can mislead the leaders of such majorities into believing that they are themselves super and irresistible.

    Speaker Alvarez appears to have fallen into this unfortunate trap.

    Coming out of the 2016 election, the PDP-Laban had only a smattering of candidates who won in the balloting. Most of the seats were garnered by the more organized political parties, especially the then administration party, the Liberal Party of former President Benigno Aquino III.

    The coalition was formed through an epidemic of political turncoatism. To his credit, and with the heavy influence of the newly elected President Duterte, Alvarez zealously cobbled together and transacted the forging of the coalition that became the House majority and elected the present leaders of the chamber.

    When the coalition was formed, the primary objective was to form the leadership that would administer the affairs of the House. The other objective was to create a reliable majority that would support President Duterte and his program of government. When individual legislators or groups of legislators joined the coalition, it was mainly to seek some identity with the new President; it was not to surrender their convictions and values to the PDP-Laban or to the coalition.

    The coalition was formed with nothing written down in black and white. It was only a consensual agreement for coalition members to work together for shared objectives.

    Speaker Alvarez has taken this coalition agreement to a different plane where the coalition behaves like a real political party instead of being just a consensus group. He says that all members of the coalition must vote for the restoration of the death penalty bill, or leave the majority if they are unable to do so. He will not allow a vote of conscience on the issue, not even to deputy speakers in the chamber, including Deputy Speaker and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

    Alvarez will probably do the same on the issue of federalism, which he is loudly pushing as Speaker, in the belief that the 17th Congress can railroad the constitutional change.

    There is something specious and dictatorial in the way the Speaker conceives of the House super-majority.

    House critics charge that Alvarez is playing God in the way he is handling the death penalty bill and House alignment on the issue. He could lose a lot of support for his own speakership.

    Similarly, the Speaker may have a big stumbling block in the fact that, as pointed out by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, restoring the death penalty would put the country in violation of a covenant it had signed in the United Nations for the abolition of capital punishment.

    This is a situation that requires political maturity, leadership and legislative statesmanship. Our leaders, both pro- and anti-death penalty, must discuss the matter thoughtfully and find the best course forward.


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    1. Was it Thomas Hobbes who stated that men agree to group together for common protection? Congressmen who are not (formal) members of the PDP-Laban attach themselves to the “winning” Party under Duterte to protect their selfish interests. Few are the likes of Rep. Baguilat, to name just one, who remain “conscience-guided” and stand as real “opposition” in the Lower House. The voting on restoration of Death Penaltay will squeeze both the real opposition and self-interest inspired lawmakers “till the real stuff each is made of comes out into the open. The people will know. Happily.

    2. It would be a great embarrassment to Speaker Alvarez if he will not, on his say-so, be able to sway the members of the so-called super majority to vote his way. When it comes to something that is a matter of principle.no amount of “incentive” or threat would make a person change his mind. Maybe the good speaker has overestimated his power or influence. It would be in his interest to allow a conscience vote on this bill.