MANILA, Philippines – Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman is unfazed by the threat of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas that the debate on the controversial death penalty bill will end if the majority bloc decides on it.
"In the first place, we are not beholden to Majority Leader Fariñas because it is not his benevolence that we are allowed to speak and to interpellate. It's according to the rules. But when we say that we must not continue with the proceedings because there is no quorum, then that is also consistent with the rules," said Lagman in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, February 16.
The opposition lawmaker was reacting to the threat Fariñas made the day before during the plenary session. (READ: Fariñas: Death penalty debate ends when majority bloc says so)
A heated exchange occurred between Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu and Lagman when the latter moved to adjourn the session due to lack of quorum.
Fariñas said he will be calling for a majority caucus and should the congressmen decide they do not want to discuss House Bill (HB) Number 4727 anymore, the plenary debate will end and the measure will be put up to a vote for 2nd reading.
Section 75 of the Rules of the House of Representatives states that congressmen cannot transact business without the presence of a majority during the session.
"So 'di kami pinagbibigyan (So they're not merely accommodating us). All we want is that we are given full reign in the debates. We should not be gagged because in other Congress nobody was gagged," said Lagman.
The longtime politician said congressmen were able to debate freely on measures involving the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the abolition of the death penalty, and the Reproductive Health law in the past Congresses.
He also hit the House leadership for getting irked when the House rules are being used against them by those who oppose HB 4727.
"When they use the rules against us, for example, when they limit an interpellator to only one hour but it includes the time consumed by the sponsoring member of the committee on justice, they fail to be omnipotent. And they are supposed to be supported by the majority. But when we use the rule against them, napipikon sila (they get annoyed)," said Lagman.
"They feel that we are delaying the proceedings. No. Since December, we were ready to interpellate. The problem is they were not ready to put the bill in action because they felt that they did not have the numbers. And so this was reset to January," he added.
HB 4727 is among the priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte. His ally, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, wants the death penalty debate to end by March 8 so the measure can be passed on 3rd and final reading before Congress takes a break on March 18.