Treading on thin ice
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Why does it even matter who the Speaker of the House of Representatives is?

For one, the 1987 Constitution provides that all appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, among others, shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives.

The Senate may propose or concur with amendments. This includes the general appropriations bill or the bill providing for the national budget.

For other bills, both houses of Congress have to agree on what the proposed law should contain before it is presented to the President for his approval.

Each member of the Lower House, except the party-list representatives, represent a particular legislative district apportioned among the different provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area. In so far as representing the voice of the people, it is the congressmen, not the senators, who are supposed to know what is happening on the ground.

But because there are 300 members of the House of Representatives, expect hundreds of diverse, conflicting views and opinions and votes.

This is why the House of Representatives needs a strong leader, one who can unite his troops, one who can rally them towards a common cause if needed, one who has the respect of so many highly opinionated legislators, some of who even have their own personal agenda, which the Speaker has to deal with.

This is the reason why the Speaker needs to be voted by a clear majority of the House.

If all that is needed is 37 disgruntled members, then the Speaker will find himself in a very precarious situation.

This is the problem being faced by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, who was supposedly elected by 186 lawmakers, first during proceedings at the Celebrity Sports Club last Monday which was held while the Lower House was on break, and then last Tuesday when 186 members voted to ratify his election as the new Speaker during a congressional session.

The Celebrity Sports Club election was undoubtedly legally and constitutionally infirm, especially since the election was conducted while the Lower House was on break and while there was no plenary.

Observers also noted that during the Oct. 13 session of the House of Representatives, what transpired was a mere roll call and not an actual vote. They said that while it had been reported that the proceedings had a nominal vote, which was required for the election of a Speaker, there was no actual list or record of the votes whatsoever.

Then it was followed by an announcement that 186 House members had voted for Velasco.

While it is true that the silence of the House members means acceptance of Velasco’s alleged victory, this is the sort of thing that creates instability in Congress.

But then there are others who say that any infirmity was cured when the Celebrity election was ratified last Tuesday while Congress was in session.

Unfortunately, the ratification, which is supposed to have made Velasco’s election as Speaker official, does not mean that the question of leadership has been laid to rest.

To be Speaker, all that one needs is 151 votes, which is the majority of the 300 members of the House. Former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was only 37 votes short. What happens if 37 of the 186 who voted for Velasco jump ship and join Cayetano’s camp or anybody for that matter?

A House insider told this writer that just this week, several senior members of the House paid a courtesy call on Velasco, but found themselves being scolded during the call. Velasco should be very careful since he is treading on very thin ice.

There are so many things that Congress needs to do effectively if it wants to be a part of the country’s economic recovery.

If Velasco has indeed been chosen by the majority of the Lower House, then we wish him all the luck and hope that he makes good his promise that he will not let the people and the institution down. After all, being House Speaker is not a mere title or a feather on one’s cap. This is a real job and the one holding office has to be accountable to the people who are expecting more from its leaders, especially during this time of crisis.

Court junks libel suit

Early last year, Cravings Food Services Inc. (CFSI) filed a libel complaint against officials of the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) for blemishing the honor of its business.

According to CFSI, its reputation was besmirched when PVB filed a case against CFSI in 2018 for the collection of a sum of money and damages, and after the court granted the bank a writ of preliminary attachment resulting in PVB attaching several properties registered in the names of CFSI and CNA Culinary Services, Inc., spouses Frederick Jonathan and Marinela Trinidad, and Susan Guerrero for the satisfaction of the unpaid P43-million loan of the company.

The company had earlier availed from the PVB a total revolving promissory note line of P50 million, but the company defaulted in its obligation to pay the bank the amount, as well as the corresponding interest and penalties.

CFSI said the civil proceedings pursued by the bank made the company appear as if it participated in fraudulent acts and dishonorable conduct, adding that such negative connotation tarnished its name and goodwill.

The Office of the City Prosecutor of Antipolo, however, dismissed the libel complaint. CFSI filed a motion for reconsideration, but the Prosecutor’s Office stood by its decision and denied the appeal in a resolution.



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