MANILA - For hours, congressmen who were on the losing side of the Speakership election wrangled amongst themselves in plenary on who is the biggest loser in that election, who will be named the minority leader.
On the second day of the 17th Congress, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman delivered a privilege speech insisting that Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat is the rightful minority leader since he got eight votes.
"As the runner-up candidate for Speaker, by tradition and practice he is automatically the Minority Leader, having garnered more votes than the other candidate for Speaker, the Hon. Danilo Suarez. It has been the customary practice or tradition of the House of Representatives to officially consider the runner-up or the candidate for the position of Speaker garnering the second highest number of votes as the Minority Leader. The validity of this practice has never been questioned," Lagman said.
He also insisted that Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez cannot be made minority leader because he voted for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
During yesterday's voting, Suarez said he will vote for Alvarez, given that he cannot vote for himself.
Suarez is not prohibited from voting for himself. In the 16th Congress, Representative Ronaldo Zamora, a contender for the speakership, voted for himself. Another contender, Representative Martin Romualdez, also did the same.
When Suarez voted for Alvarez, he joined the ranks of the majority, pursuant to Section 8 of Rule 2 of the Rules of the House, which provides that "Members who vote for the winning candidate for Speaker shall constitute the Majority in the House."
"The seven votes cast for Rep. Suarez may even be eventually declared invalid because he subsequently aligned himself with the Majority by voting for the eventual winner for Speaker," Lagman said.
For Lagman, the 20 congressmen who abstained have no say in the minority leadership.
Those who abstained, with the exception of Alvarez, are neither part of the majority nor the minority.
In the last paragraph of Section 8 of Rule 2, they are considered as "independent Members of the House."
The pertinent provision of the Rules provides that "Members who choose not to align themselves with the Majority or the Minority shall be considered as independent Members of the House. They may, however, choose to join the Majority or the Minority upon written request to and approval thereof by the Majority or the Minority, as the case may be."
On Monday, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the minority leader will be elected from among those who did not vote for speaker, a move which Lagman opposed.
The suggestion that those who abstained should be considered members of the minority have no basis in the Rules of the House. It also violates both the spirit and phraseology of the Rules.
In the 16th Congress, when Zamora won over Romualdez by three votes, Zamora was automatically recognized as the minority leader without need for another election.
A provision under Section 8 of Rule 2 provides that "The Minority Leader shall be elected by the members of the Minority." However, this provision will only apply when there is no clear cut winner for the position of Minority leader like when two or more contenders are tied with the same number of votes.
Lagman pointed out the importance of the postion.
"The House of Representatives of the 17th Congress cannot democratically function without a Minority Leader. Moreover, the Rules Committee cannot also function with only the Majority represented. Our Rules provide that the Minority Leader and five Deputy Minority Leaders shall be automatic members of the Committee on Rules."
Lagman was interpolated by Northern Samar Representative Raul Daza. Daza amplified Lagman's arguments for the rules.
Daza manifested on the floor that he got an invitation to the election of the minority leader which will be held in a meeting Wednesday.
"I was being asked to sign..I said how can the independent members of the house constitute themselves as minority and arrogate to themselves the authority to elect a minority… I think this was humorous because theye are independent members of the house and they have no right or privilege to conven a meeting of the minority. Hindi sila sa langit o impyerno nasa purgatoryo sila eh ba't sila tatawag ng meeting," Daza said.
Daza also warned that the failure to resolve the minority leadership could paralyze the House.
"Kaya mga kasama pakiusap ko 'wag na natin gamitin ang mga palusot itong mga ginagawa natin palusot ito eh…Si Maj. Ldr. kasama ko sa prosecution, inupakan si ex-CJ (Chief Justice) Corona dahil sa palusot. Itong mga ginagawa rito, palusot ito."
An ally of Suarez, believed to be the majority's "annointed" minority leader, Buhay Party-list Representative Lito Atienza said: "This rule of electing a min leader has never been contested."
On the other hand, Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice, an ally of Baguilat, also slammed the invitation to the said minority leadership meeting.
"I was surprised to receive this invitation from representatives whom I know to be the very first to sign a coalition agreement with the speaker. The representatives who expressed their support, now they are calling themselves part of the minority. May parliamentary inquiry from members of the staff of the committee on rules gusto ko malaman saan galing ito," Erice said.
The minority leadership election is in limbo after there were allegations that the majority is trying to pick and install a servile minority leader by loaning some of its members to Suarez' bloc, so he will have the numbers for the position.