THE finance committee of the US Senate suspended its rules Wednesday to approve the nomination of Rep. Tom Price (Republican, Georgia) as secretary of health and human services, and of Stephen Mnuchin as secretary of the treasury.
The committee’s rules require the presence of a minority member before a nomination for the Cabinet can be approved. The Democrat members boycotted the committee hearing in a bid to stall the approval of the two Trump nominees by the Republican majority. The Republicans, however, decided to suspend the committee rules and approved Price and Mnuchin without Democrats present.
Tyranny of numbers
This muzzling of the boycotting minority at the US Senate reminds me of a similar boycott on September 17, 2008, by the minority of the Philippine Senate. There was a big difference though. While the Republicans bulldozed their way through tyranny of numbers, the majority of the Philippine Senate in 2008 respected the minority. Ironically, this took place during the 14th Congress which I consider the worst I had ever covered.
None of the eight members of the minority attended that session, although Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel had a valid excuse in attending a conference in Jakarta. This led then Senator Joker Arroyo to remark that he found it odd that the minority left nobody to mind the store. Indeed, it was in stark contrast to previous practice where at least one minority member was present until the session is adjourned.
The hawkish Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proposed that since there was a quorum and the minority members absented themselves of their own free will, then the Senate majority should take advantage of the situation by approving all pending administration measures. It must be recalled that the Senate of the 14th Congress was one of the least productive due mainly to passionate partisanship. Many vital measures were sidelined as the senators battled over other issues.
The gallantry of Joker Arroyo
The late Senator Miriam could be excused for airing that proposal to railroad administration bills. She must have grown impatient at the slow pace of legislative work that she wanted needed bills to be approved while the minority was boycotting the session. Senator Joker Arroyo, however, had a different mindset.
The outspoken Joker was a frequent target of criticism by the minority but he never lost sight of the role of the minority in legislation. He opposed the approval of any measure and considered the presence of the minority a requirement for such approval. I guess the majority in the US Congress needs the likes of our very own Joker Arroyo.
The Senate President at the time, Senator Manny Villar, saw the wisdom and gallantry of Joker’s stand. Villar ruled that the session could proceed with its business of the day but no measure should be approved. So, the session went on without the raised voices and heated exchanges that had characterized previous sessions.
The boycott of the September 17 session by the minority was precipitated by the ruling the previous day of Senate President Pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada, the presiding officer, allowing Senator Alan Peter Cayetano to speak on a matter of personal privilege ahead of Senator Jamby Madrigal’s interpellation of fellow minority member Ping Lacson.
Senator Lacson’s privilege speech on September 15 contained some words that Cayetano considered to have impugned his character and dignity. The minority, however, considered Madrigal’s friendly interpellation of Lacson of higher priority than Cayetano’s defense of his person. The minority argued that there was a prior agreement that Madrigal would be recognized in the next session.
Cayetano wasn’t a party to that agreement so he could validly insist that he be given the floor. Note that Senate rules give higher priority to a speech on personal and collective privilege over an interpellation. The house was divided, and the vote was 9 to 6 in favor of Jinggoy’s ruling allowing Cayetano to speak ahead.
Senator Chiz Escudero, a member of the majority, aired his concern over that situation. Chiz normally speaks fast but that time, he spoke slowly, as if stressing each word: “If there’s anything that we should be ashamed of, it is that we should divide the house before a member could speak.”
Oh yes, after the voting, the minority walked out and didn’t want to hear Cayetano defend himself.
Hopefully, there will be no reincarnation of the 14th Congress.
I took a two-month rest from column writing to recharge my batteries. I’ve come to realize I’m no longer a spring chicken. Thanks to boss Klink Ang and Rene Bas for approving my much-needed leave.