AN exasperated President Duterte has had enough of the politicking at the House of Representatives and is keeping his hands off the fight for the post of speaker, his spokesman said yesterday.
Harry Roque said the President just wants the House to pass the P4.5-trillion budget for next year, and would not care what happens to the leadership row after that.
Roque issued the statement as allies of Marinduque Rep. Allan Lord Velasco held a session outside the House and elected him speaker, by a vote of 186.
The House has 299 members.
Questions about the legality of the election were raised.
Duterte last week called for a “special session,” from October 13 to 16, to ensure the national government would not have to operate on a re-enacted budget next year because of the intramurals at the House.
He has brokered a term-sharing agreement between Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who abruptly suspended sessions from October 6 to November 15, and Velasco who is supposed to assume the top House post on October 14. Cayetano has been indicating he would not give way to Velasco.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a veteran lawyer-lawmaker, said while he believes Cayetano should step down and honor the term-sharing agreement, Velasco’s “election” as speaker violated House rules and is therefore, unconstitutional.
Calling the gathering of Velasco and his allies at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City a “rump assembly,” Lagman said a speaker must be elected when the House is in session, which is done in an open and public plenary proceeding. He said this did not happen because the House was not even in session when Velasco was supposedly elected.
The president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Domingo Cayosa, said there was nothing illegal in the election even if it was conducted in a session held outside the House of Representatives.
Cayosa said “ideally,” the proceedings should have been held inside the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, which houses the House of Representatives, but since majority supported the session at the sports complex, then there is nothing illegal about it.
Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzalez II said the proceeding was a “rump and illegal session” as he argued that the House session is suspended until November 16 and that there is no authority from the plenary for the chamber to reconvene on Monday. Gonzalez also said the maces are currently in the possession of the House Sergeant-At-Arms.
But Cayosa said these are just part of the House’s internal rules.
“At any time, the majority of the House’ members can declare the post of speaker vacant. That is the essence of democracy that the majority rules, and again, 186 is more than a majority,” he said.
“The majority prevails. Is it illegal? No, as long as the majority decided,” he said.
As to the mace, Cayosa said it was “just one of the formalities.”
Lagman said legislative sessions of either the Senate or the House cannot be conducted in any place other than in which the two houses shall be sitting without the consent of the other, citing Section 16(5) of Article VI of the Constitution which provides: “Neither House during the sessions of the Congress shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.”
Lagman said even if the suspension of the session on October 6 was invalid and the sessions continue, the “session” at the Celebrity Sports Plaza had no consent of the Senate “and consequently it was not legal and constitutional.”
SHOW THE NUMBERS
Senate finance committee chair Juan Edgardo Angara gave an unsolicited to the opposing House leaders.
“It’s fairly simple. With both camps claiming they have the numbers, they should just call the session to order and conduct an election. Like every other legislative body in the world, the majority rules. That will resolve the conflicting claims once and for all so the focus can return to tackling and passing the budget bill,” Angara said in a text message to media.
Angara clarified he does not want to meddle in the leadership problem at the House, which he said is an “internal matter,” and said his main concern is the passage of the 2021 national budget on time.
Roque reiterated the President does not want to be dragged into the House row, and is not taking sides.
“Ang siguradung-sigurado po na sinabi ng Presidente, in the Visayan, ‘Natagam na’ko diyan sa pulitika.’ Dalang-dala na ako sa pulitika. Bahala na kayo kung anong gusto ninyong gawin. Pero, meanwhile, ang pakiusap niya ipasa ang 2021 budget. (What I am sure that the President said, in the Visayan, ‘Natagam na’ko diyan sa pulitika.’ I have had it with politics. You can do what you want. But, meanwhile, I appeal to you to pass the 2021 budget),” he said.
“Wala na po siyang pakialam kung ano ang gagawin ng mga mambabatas matapos maipasa ang 2021 budget. To each his own, wala pong pinapanigan, may the best man win for the speakership. After the budget po, after the budget in the House, please (He no longer cares what the lawmakers would do after the pass the 2021 budget. To each his own, no taking of sides, may the best man win for the Speakership. After the budget, after the budget in the House, please),” he added.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, in his program “Counterpoint,” said he does not believe there was anything illegal in holding a session outside the House and electing Velasco but he could be wrong and the issue may be raised with the Supreme Court.
He said the important thing is that there was a majority or a quorum.
“What is important is the majority rule, iyun naman ang demokrasya (that is democracy),” he said. — With Wendell Vigilia, Ashzel Hachero, and Raymond Africa