'Record attendance' in House? But Atienza says lawmakers leave after roll call

MANILA, Philippines – Buhay Representative Lito Atienza does not buy the claim of the House leadership that the lower chamber has a "record high attendance" in the 18th Congress.

Why? Because House members tend to leave the plenary hall once the roll call has been called during the session, explained Atienza. 

"Makikita 'nyo roll call, maraming sumasagot. Then as the session goes, mawawala 'yan. Then at a certain point, mga dalawa, 5 na lang do'n, nagpapasa pa ng budget! They keep on passing the budget with only 30 people on the floor," said Atienza on Thursday, September 12.

(You would see during the roll call that many would respond. Then as the session goes, they would disappear. Then at a certain point, only 2 to 5 lawmakers are present, but they still seek to pass the budget! They keep on passing the budget with only 30 people on the floor.)

"'Pag wala nang members enough to form a quorum, anything that is handled by the body is questionable, at the very least. Illegal probably, kasi 'di naaprubahan ng quorum," he added.

(If there aren't enough members to form a quorum, anything that is handled by the body is questionable, at the very least. Illegal probably, because it wasn't approved by the quorum.)

A quorum means the attendance of 50% + 1 of the total number of legislators.

The House plenary is currently conducting debates on the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020.  

On Tuesday, September 11 – the first day of the plenary deliberations on the budget – House Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales II released a statement commending his colleagues for their "record" attendance.

Gonzales said an average of 247 out of 299 legislators have attended the plenary sessions since the 18th Congress was opened on July 22.

"I have been a member of several Congresses, and I am truly elated by the record attendance of House members of the 18th Congress led by Speaker Cayetano. The high attendance of our colleagues 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," said Gonzales. 

Atienza conceded the plenary hall is usually full when the roll call is being called, but he pointed out that many legislators also leave the session hall once their name is called.

"Record high in roll call but even in roll call, I was able to prove the other night dinudoktor nila (that they are manipulating the numbers)," said the party-list lawmaker.

But why do lawmakers get away with being physically absent? This is because House rules allow legislators who are physically absent in the plenary to still be recorded as present.  

Section 71, Article XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives state the following lawmakers would still be deemed present during the session if:

Not the first time for Atienza to question quorum: Since the 16th Congress, Atienza has questioned the quorum declared by the House secretariat during plenary sessions. 

Atienza would point out that the secretariat's attendance record sometimes does not match the actual number of lawmakers present on the floor.

There have been cases in the past Congresses when Atienza successfully questioned the presence of a quorum, and the plenary was forced to do a second roll call.

Whenever this second roll call showed there were not enough legislators present, the plenary was forced to adjourn session for the day.

"The quorum is the basic requirement of any deliberative body. Congress is ruled by this, basic parliamentary, elementary, academic rule," said Atienza. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.