text by Merck Maguddayao, video by Justine Espina-Letargo
House Speaker Prospero Nograles adjourned sine die (without a next session) the legislative session of the 14th Congress moments ago, shutting the door for the ratification of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The adjournment came after the House secretary-general counted 128 congressmen present in today’s session, two shy of a quorum.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, in an interview with the Philippine Online Chronicles (POC) revealed however, that before the roll call, the secretary-general had listed 132 congressmen present in session hall.
Lack of quorum?
“There’s an obvious violation of House rules here,” Bello said. He said that he plans to question the accuracy of the secretary-general’s count in the roll call.
Meanwhile, Nograles, a co-author of the FOI Act, reaffirmed the count of the secretary-general.
Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) Representative Joel Villanueva meanwhile invoked House Rule 74, which calls for the “arrest” of congressmen who are present in the House premises to make them attend the session inside the session hall.
Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros seconded Villanueva while administration congressman Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora of Compostela Valley urged Nograles “to call the PNP (Philippine National Police)” to arrest the absent congressmen who are inside the House complex.
“I have texted them before the roll call to attend the session, is that not enough?” Nograles countered.
“But that is not enough, Mr. Speaker,” Zamora said. “We must end our terms by ratifying a law that would benefit the people.”
Lack of debate?
The House session started with a motion from Majority Leader Arthur Defensor to ratify the FOI Act. However, after Defensor read the title of both the Senate and House versions of the act, Camiguin Representative Jesus Romualdo raised an objection against the ratification of the said bill.
“It has not been a practice by the House to ratify a law that has not undergone scrutiny and debate,” Romualdo reasoned, referring to the FOI Act.
He also slammed the media, saying that “they are enthusiastic for the FOI Act but they are against the Right of Reply Bill.”
FOI Act principal author Bienvenido Abante countered Romualdo, saying that the act “has been discussed and debated [upon] for nine years.”
After Nograles reaffirmed the “lack of quorum” in the House session, Abante emotionally proclaimed: “I declare that the 14th Congress is a shame to the Filipino people! I don’t want to be a part of this shameful body!”
Violence in the gallery
Upon the adjournment of session, members of the Right to Know, Right Now! alliance shouted chants and boos in the audience gallery.
Two students—Prescy Delloso and Elmer Aresgado—were seen to be pulled away from the gallery by the House security as a violent commotion ensued between them and the guards.
“This House has gone against the will of the people. These congressmen (referring to Nograles and Romualdo) do not represent the voice of the Filipinos,” Delloso, chair of the militant Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND), said.
In a POC interview, Villanueva commented that the adjournment of session was a “conspiracy” which is led by Nograles.
“He is a co-author [of the bill] but he has been cold [on ratifying it] recently,” Villanueva said. “I think someone more powerful is behind this.”
When asked about the declared support of Malacañang on the FOI Act, which was issued yesterday, Villanueva said that “it is a mere lip service” and has not persuaded administration congressmen to ratify it.
Right to Know, Right Now! legal counsel Nepomuceno Malaluan seconded Villanueva’s notion of a conspiracy.
“Are they [Nograles and Romualdo] hiding something from us? Romualdo’s position on the bill is ridiculous,” he said.
The FOI Act, which is an enabling law for the Constitutional provision on freedom of information and full public disclosure of government information involving the use of public funds, had been ratified by the Senate and the bicameral conference committee of Congress. On Monday, the Senate submitted a resolution to Nograles to urge the Lower House to ratify the said act.