Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez on Thursday disputed allegations that he will be heading a fake minority amid controversies on how he was elected as House minority leader.
In an interview with [email protected], Suarez said though tradition dictated that the runner-up for the House Speakership becomes the minority leader, House Majority Floor Leader Ilocos Representative Rodolfo Fariñas ruled that the minority bloc should choose its leader in separate elections.
"Yung ruling ni acting Majority Leader Fariñas prevails—na yung hindi boboto kay Speaker Alvarez ay magsasama-sama ang among themselves select who they want to be the minority leader," he said.
"It’s the rule; but not the tradition."
READ: 'Bastardized, rigged': Critics bash vote for House minority leader
Suarez ranked third in the speakership race in the voting in the opening session of Congress on Monday. Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. fell a far second with 8 points to Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon "Bebot"Alvarez's 251. Suarez had 7.
Baguilat and his camp insisted that Suarez is part of some sinister plot with the ruling party to have a "co-opted" minority bloc, but Suarez maintained, if he was indeed chosen by the majority, it was not his decision.
"That’s beyond me. Kung sila ay nag-isip-isip na, nag-usap sila, at sinabi nilang 'ito ang mga minority, sino ba ang gusto natin dito, na palagay mong medaling maayos at mapaliwanagan ng ating programa?'," he said.
"Kasi traditionally, kalaban nila ang Liberal at kami nung last election, pero ika nga, yung lesser evil," he said.
Suarez also debunked claims that he was chosen to be the minority leader during a closed-door meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Panacan, Davao.
He said, the meeting was upon the invitation of Fariñas and was among the leaders of the political parties. There, he said, Duterte explained his legislative agenda and nothing else.
He maintained, he has not met with Duterte since.
Suarez also underscored that he has already served as the house minority leader in 2012, and he believes he will make an effective return to the post.
"I think may track record naman ako. I’ve proven myself to be an effective minority even during the time na napaka-popular ng Pangulong PNoy, and we have come up with some very healthy discussions and resolutions na hindi puppet ang kongreso," he said.
He admitted, however, that he personally believes in some of the program pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte, including the revival of the death penalty.
There are members of the minority, though, that he said are likely to debate with the majority in the plenary when the subject is discussed.
"Yung Buhay, kay Congressman [Lito] Atienza, kina Harry Roque ng kanilang partido, will definitely debate with the majority sa plenary on the discussions of the death penalty," he said.
He said, his bloc will be a "constructive minority," and will not be a rubber stamp.
Suarez said they are looking to help address lapses in revenue collection which are needed to offset the planned reduction of income tax rates among other legislative priorities.
"Siguro dun, maglalatag kami ng programa with the majority siguro, pwede nating pag-usapan ito. We can improve revenue, raise some money without affecting the masses," he said.
SUAREZ NOT ELIGIBLE
But Baguilat believes Suarez should not be the minority leader as he is not eligible after voting for Alvarez.
"Ang issue is tradition ba or what is written in the rules, but sa akin kasi is if we follow the rule, then therefore, Congressman Danny Suarez is not eligible to lead the minority because he voted for Congressman Alvarez," he said.
He said they disagree with Fariñas' move to hold another election for the minority leadership, "when there is already a clear-cut winner."
"Eight will never change, and seven will presumably stay with the seven, with Danny Suarez. Yun naman ang ininvoke ni Congressman Lagman," he said.
He also pointed out that the rule book also said that those who abstained are neither aligned with the majority or the minority and will form the independent bloc.
Baguilat said, he thinks the 21 people who abstained was "key to their plan to put up a co-opted minority" as they were mostly members of Alvarez's PDP-Laban or have signed a memorandum with the party.
The 21, he said, were reserve votes to not make their support for Suarez's bid too obvious.
"They were looking at, perhaps, Speaker Belmonte, but that morning, nagulat siguro sila na there’s another candidate, but they weren’t sure of our numbers. So to ensure that they would win, naglagay sila ng mga reserve votes," he said.
He maintained, he is not convinced Suarez should lead the minority.
"Does he have the moral ascendancy to become minority floor leader when one, pagkatapos ng eleksyon nag-courtesy call to President Duterte and expressed support his legislative agenda?," he said.
He reiterated their camp's claim that Suarez received votes from a collusion with the majority.
Baguilat claimed Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice said that Suarez approached him to ask for support a month ago.
Erice declined because former House Speaked Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte was still in the running, but Suarez, he said, claimed the "anointment" of the majority party.
Baguilat also mentioned the claims of former UNA President Toby Tiangco that Alvarez and Suarez met with former Vice-President Jejomar Binay.
"How can you say that you are the minority when majority of your votes came from the majority allies?," he said.
Baguilat now plans to question Suarez's win before the Supreme Court, and though he is hopeful the high court will favor them, he said he intends to fulfill his role as fiscalizer.
READ: Baguilat mulls SC intervention on minority leadership