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Resignation calls

It was my first time to meet and talk with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in a one-on-one interview last Wednesday. Since Alvarez was installed Speaker at the 17th Congress in July last year, we’ve been trying to invite him to guest in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay that we regularly hold every Wednesday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate in Manila.

At the outset, the Speaker was apologetic for not being able to make time to accept our invites in the past. He blamed “traffic” as primary reason that kept him away from joining our breakfast forum. The daily traffic gridlocks, he rued, result to long hours of road travel one has to go through from one place to another in Metro Manila.

Perhaps taking cue from the Speaker, the House committee on transportations endorsed during their plenary sessions last Wednesday their Committee Report No. 389 on the proposed “Traffic Crisis Act of 2016” under House Bill No. 6425. The proposed legislation designates the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to become the “de officio traffic chief” empowered to streamline the management of traffic and transportation and control road use in the various metropolitan areas of the country.

Alvarez himself once served as the Secretary of the erstwhile Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) – now called DOTr – from 2001 to 2002.

Speaking of traffic, the Speaker finds nothing wrong with the proposal of House majority leader Rep. Rodolfo Farinas to allow a free pass to all lawmakers from minor traffic infractions. The country's 1987 Constitution, Alvarez cited, provides parliamentary immunity to all lawmakers during sessions of Congress.

On legislative matters, the Speaker reported the Lower House has completed and transmitted 210 bills they approved but have been languishing at the Senate. If the Lower House is called in Tagalog as “Mababang Kapulungan,” the Speaker ribbed their Senate counterparts as the “Mabagal na Kapulungan” (slow chamber).

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Pending before the Senate, he mentioned, are major priority bills of the President from lifting the suspension of the Death Penalty Law, the comprehensive tax reform program, and the proposed 2018 budget bill, just to name some. He admitted though the bulk of the House-approved measures were local bills.

As Speaker, Alvarez has imposed daily quorum checking for all congressmen. Any one of the 291 House members is locked out if he or she fails to be physically inside the session hall on or before the 4 p.m. roll call. Why can’t the same discipline be imposed at the Upper Chamber with just 23 of the 24 Senators? (Ex-Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano moved on to become as Foreign Affairs Secretary.) 
      The Speaker suggested a simple solution to speed up the slow-grinding legislative mills at the Senate: Remove televised media coverage.

The Speaker’s counterpart is Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Alvarez admitted though he is concerned on the possible impact to the legislative calendar of the pending impeachment cases that were filed one after the other at the House secretary-general.

This is especially after the impeachment case filed against Supreme Court (SC) chief justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno moved forward after the House committee on justice found the complaint against her as compliant in form and substance. The House committee gave Sereno ten days to answer the complaint against her.

The Speaker assured Sereno she would go through the entire House proceedings and will not suffer the shortcuts on the impeachment process done in the past to the case of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona. Alvarez stressed that the present Congress will not be stampeded in any impeachment case, including the pending complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo.

But also last Wednesday after attending our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, the House committee on justice dismissed the impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista. Effectively this would make the Comelec chairman immune for one year from any impeachment case even as complainants against him led by his estranged wife announced they would not be stopped by this setback at the House.

With one impeachment out of the way, it would be one less worry for the Speaker who fears more delays in the legislative process at the Senate. Under the country’s 1987 Constitution, the Senate would have to be convened as impeachment trial court once the Lower House officially vote in plenary whether or not to transmit the impeachment complaint. And of course, it will be a televised impeachment trial at the Senate, Alvarez added matter-of-factly.

Alvarez expressed apprehension to the ability and capacity of their Senate counterparts to attend to their main job as legislators if any impeachment case prospers.

This, despite the Senate president happens to be a party-mate of Alvarez at the PDP-Laban, which is currently the ruling party in the 17th Congress in coalition with other parties under their so-called “super majority.” Pimentel is the party president while Alvarez is the secretary-general of the PDP-Laban. Incidentally, the President’s PDP-Laban made a show of force at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila yesterday.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier declared September 21 as a “National Day of Protest” to allow all Filipinos, especially those belonging to opposition, militant and other anti-administration groups to hold their rallies and demonstrations on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of martial law.

The anti-administration and militants yesterday cried for the resignation of President Duterte for fomenting many of the reported extrajudicial killings related to his war against illegal drugs. Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano tried to oust the President through an impeachment process in the 17th Congress. But with PDP-Laban vanguards led by Speaker Alvarez, President Duterte survived it unscathed.

As far as the Lower House is concerned on resignation calls, Alvarez declared he would remind President Duterte about his contract with 16 million Filipinos who voted him into office last year. 

Will resignation calls do the trick for a fatalist President Duterte who always says he’s ready to die anytime and offers to resign at any time, too?

 

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