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Quorum and decorum

The House of Representatives has fallen into such disrepute that even parliamentary rules are no longer observed. Take the recent case of the microphone being turned off even when a member of the House was on the floor still speaking on a motion to override President Benigno Aquino III’s veto of the pension increase for retirees.

Buhay Party List Rep. Lito Atienza deplored the lack of basic parliamentary courtesy just to please a sitting President, the fountainhead from which all powers and perks spring, something the ruling majority know they need to win reelection. With Congress’ pork barrel fund abolished, it’s now only President Aquino’s discretionary funds that can be the source of campaign grist. That is, if you do the Palace bidding on administration bills certified “priority” and “urgent.”

“Bastusan na talaga,” fumed Atienza, who together with Akbayan Party List Rep. Neri Colmenares, had gathered 57 signatures but needed more to override the President’s veto of the P2,000-monthly increase in Social Security System pension. It was Colmenares who was speaking on the need for raising retirees’ pension when the microphone was switched off. There was no mystery behind it; someone high up ordered the mike switched off. House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr. was then presiding.

“This is an arrogant display of naked power by the ruling majority,” fumed Atienza. Indeed, it also showed a lack of sensitivity by the congressmen considering the House gallery was packed with senior citizens and retirees hoping Congress would override Aquino’s veto so they can have enough money for their medication and other basic needs. The House in an all-time low (no wonder it’s called the Lower House), showed it would rather curry the President’s favor than the people’s.

Atienza said this is the reason he decided against a run in the Senate, opting instead to stay in the House. This, aside from the astronomical cost of running a campaign for a Senate seat and his lack of necessary funds. He pointed out that Congress is the real battleground since most vital pieces of legislation emanate from the House, particularly national appropriations and tax bills affecting the citizenry. That’s also why “transactional politics,” particularly in the granting or stripping of franchises, are being carried outside and even inside the session hall, Lito lamented.

I never thought Atienza would say it, but he did. He recalled that when he was a member of the Batasang Pambansa during the Martial Law regime, President Marcos allowed debates and discussion of major legislation to go on until the wee hours of the morning. The remark comes as the nation is about to mark the 30th anniversary of People Power Revolution at Edsa next week.

“Is this what we fought for at Edsa?” asked Atienza, then a street parliamentarian. He also condemned some congressmen who deliberately do not show up just so there would be a lack of quorum when they don’t want to pass a major piece of legislation. This, even as they are quick to railroad bills when the rails are “greased, ” so to speak. For his part, Atienza can be proud to claim a 100-percent attendance. Staunchly pro-life as his Party List Buhay, he has stood up against the reproductive health bill, other abortion measures, same-sex marriage, divorce and the death penalty even as he supported the SSS allowance increase and the Standardization of Government Workers’ Salaries.

Topics: Alejandro del Rosario , Quorum and decorum
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