House members praised for high attendance; solon says most leave after roll call

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 12 2019 03:27 PM | Updated as of Sep 12 2019 03:42 PM

MANILA - A House leader gave his colleagues a pat on the back for showing up for work and working efficiently during the early days of the 18th Congress.

But an opposition lawmaker assailed the management of plenary sessions, alleging that the leadership was sacrificing the quality of legislative work.

In a statement Wednesday, House Deputy Speaker for Internal Affairs Neptali Gonzales II claimed that a record high average of 247 Representatives were present for plenary sessions since the opening of 18th Congress on July 22, until September 10— a total of 18 session days. 

The House in the 18th Congress also has the highest membership among all past congresses, primarily due to the creation of new congressional districts.

The high attendance of House members reflects their "discipline, hard work, deep passion and great interest to serve the people and enact priority laws that will give them a safe and comfortable life,” Gonzales said.

He said that while there were many holidays last month, lawmakers chose to attend to their congressional work instead of going on extended breaks. 

Gonzales said the House recorded a high of 266 attendees during the roll call last August 13, a day after the observance of Eid al-Adha Day, and 259 attendees on August 27, a day after the celebration of National Heroes Day.

Roll Call of House Members

  • July 22- 297 present 
  • July 23- 268 present
  • July 24- 243 present
  • July 29- 251 present
  • July 30- 238 present
  • July 31- 257 present 
  • August 5- 243 present
  • August 6- 237 present 
  • August 7- 245 present
  • August 13- 266 present 
  • August 14- 254 present 
  • August 27- 259 present
  • August 28- 242 present
  • September 2- 242 present
  • September 3- 235 present
  • September 4- 229 present
  • September 9- 239 present

Source: House Journals

But one lawmaker from across the political aisle said the House would be judged not just simply for showing up, but for the quality of their work.

House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. joined Gonzales in commending their colleagues but reminded them that attendance alone is "not enough.” 

Buhay Party List Rep. Lito Atienza, who has consistently questioned the roll call and quorum in plenary sessions, pointed out that attendance is high only during the roll call before it dwindles in the course of the session and that the Secretariat pads the attendance records of lawmakers.

“Record high on roll call but even in the roll call, I was able to prove other night, dinudoktor nila (they doctor it)," he said.

Under House rules, lawmakers absent during the session can be counted and marked as present on 3 occasions: 

  •  If they are attending committee meetings authorized by the Rules Committee upon written notification to the Secretary General
  •  If they are attending meetings of the Commission on Appointments, House of Representatives Electoral tribunal and Bicameral Conference Committees
  •  If they are on official mission as approved by the Speaker.

Atienza said lawmakers tend to leave after their attendance has been checked and this could make the legality of the approval of measures questionable. 

He appealed to his colleagues to attend sessions and maintain a quorum which is a basic requirement for a deliberative body like the House. 

“Mayroon provision sa rules pag walang quorum on the first call, puwedeng mag-antay ng 30 minutes para sa iba. 'Pag di pa rin dumating, puwedeng i-extend, we wait for another 30 minutes, 'pag di pa rin dumating he is forced to adjourn," he said.

(There is a provision in the rules, if there is no quorum on the first call, we can wait for the others for 30 minutes. If they still don't come, we can extend, we wait for another 30 minutes, and if they still don't come, he (House member presiding) is forced to adjourn.)

The House is on its way to beat its self-imposed deadline for the approval of the 2020 budget before Congress goes on recess on October 4.

Atienza, however, thinks the leadership isn’t that concerned with the quality of legislation.

”I don't know their preferences and their sense of priority para matawag na itong Kongreso na ito ay efficient, ito ay productive, (of this Congress to call itself efficient, productive), even cutting short basic procedures and requirements," he said.

“Etong ating leadership ngayon mukhang mas concerned siya sa (this leadership is more concerned with) breaking records, breaking time elements. So what if we approve the budget if we do not do it properly and hastily? May kasabihan tayo, haste makes waste."

In the 18th Congress, the House has been able to approve priority measures like the succeeding package of the tax reform program by invoking a rule that waives debates at the committee level and fast tracks the approval of bills that were already approved on final reading by the preceding Congress.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has scheduled the approval of the 2020 Budget on second reading by September 20, paving the way for final approval on or before October 4, when the session adjourns.

Cayetano is only going to be serving 15 months as House Speaker because of the term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.