POSTSCRIPT / August 7 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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House battle rages over minority leader

TWO weeks into the opening of the current session of the 17thCongress, taxpayers still do not know who the Minority Leader in the House of Representative is. As we write this, the chamber is still debating the leadership issue, with a vote expected shortly.

Is the Minority Leader whoever newly installed Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo recognizes? If this happens, the post is likely to go to Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez who carried over the title, and its entitlements, from the time of deposed Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The in-fighting for the minority top post in the 292-member chamber tests the leadership and political skills of the former President and now congresswoman from Pampanga who wrested House control from Alvarez last July 23.

Two groups are challenging Suarez: A bloc led by Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo (Liberal), and another camp pushing Rep. Eugene de Vera (Party-list ABS) counting on the support of Alvarez and his majority leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

* Suarez says that he was elected Minority Leader during the tenure of Alvarez and his post was not declared vacant in the recent leadership shuffle. He said that he and the 16 congressmen with him were not among the 184 who voted for Arroyo.

* Quimbo claims support of a group of 24 who he said have been the true opposition. Among them are Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman (Liberal) of the so-called “Magnificent 7” and Rep Antonio Tinio of the seven-member Makabayan bloc of leftist party-list representatives.

* De Vera, chosen by a group of 14 backed up by the Alvarez-Fariñas tandem, points out that he, although deputy minority leader under Alvarez, abstained while Suarez voted for his long-time ally Arroyo.

Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. (Party-list Ako Bicol), another deputy minority leader under Alvarez, said that 10 congressmen from Arroyo’s new majority have applied to join Suarez, bringing to 26 their number, the biggest among the three contending blocs, if true.

Making the opposition Liberal Party stand clear, Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, LP secretary general, announced that the 12 LP solons who abstained from voting for Arroyo have written her that they have installed Quimbo as their Minority Leader.

However, numbers and party affiliations sometimes get blurred in a power play like this. Suppose Suarez stands as incumbent Minority Leader to address the Speaker and is recognized as such, a near-pandemonium could ensue.

That could give the lawyers in the House a reason to run to the Supreme Court as they have threatened to do. Necessarily, such a petition will cite Rule II, Section 8, of the Rules of the House of Representatives, which says:

“xxx (a) all those who vote for the winning Speaker shall belong to the Majority and those who vote for other candidates shall belong to the Minority; (b) those who abstain from voting shall likewise be considered part of the Minority; and (c) the Minority Leader shall be elected by members of the Minority.”

An earlier SC decision affirmed that same rule on July 25, 2017, to settle a similar leadership dispute involving Suarez and the so-called “Magnificent 7” led by Bicol congressman Lagman.

Farinas has said he would raise before the high court the same issue if the House leadership gives him a valid reason to seek such a ruling. Arroyo’s recognizing Suarez could be a good reason.

But this early, some quarters point out that electing the Minority Leader is an internal issue over which the Supreme Court, under the separation of powers, cannot or should not rule. But it did rule in 2017.

As the issue of separation of powers is reopened, the usual analysts and kibitzers have begun asking what President Duterte’s marching orders are to his supermajority in the House. That could be a hint of more complications ahead.

 House power play smells of ‘KaPe’

THE HOUSE imbroglio carries with it the exciting aroma of coffee or “kape” (Kapangyarihan at Pera, or “power and pelf”).

No Speaker in Philippine history has been able to use his position to rise to the presidency, although there is always a first time. Less could be said of the post of Minority Leader, but if adroitly exploited, it could be a launch pad for a higher national position.

Meantime, a Minority Leader savors the perks that “kape” brings. As gathered by Star reporter Delon Porcalla, described below are some of the funds that go into a Minority Leader’s generous serving of “coffee.”

The Minority Leader gets substantial monthly and quarterly allotments on top of the minimum P80 million in annual funding pertaining to his district. He receives P500,000 every month and another P500,000 every quarter, allotments introduced during the time of Alvarez.

Such “generosity” did not save Alvarez from the revolt that toppled him, reportedly because he allegedly became “swell-headed” and “abrasive” in dealing with his peers.

Each House minority member receives P50,000 monthly, on top of his P200,000 monthly salary, which is apart from the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) allocated for his district or party-list office. Every lawmaker is entitled to a field office aside from the one at the Batasan.

The Minority Leader gets the lump sum allocation for his colleagues for distribution to them. He reportedly “gets the same amount of MOOE” (maintenance and other operating expenses) as the Majority Leader. He can also hire “consultants” whose fees can go as high as P50,000. But unlike the Speaker and Senate president, minority leaders do not get “intelligence funds.”

The Minority Leader and his members are each given P50,000 in allowances when Congress is on recess. They are reportedly given P150,000 each during legislative breaks.

The minority’s representative in the 12-man House contingent in the bicameral Commission on Appointments also has his own entitlements, as also all minority members who sit in House committees.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 7, 2018)

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