MANILA, Philippines - It's not the first time that Cagayan De Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez raised his voice in plenary. He is, after all, a rabid critic of the controversial Reproductive Health bill (RH bill). But what happened Tuesday, September 4, was unexpected.
Rodriguez raised hell and accused the House secretariat of manipulating the House attendance in plenary.
It all happened so fast. First, the secretariat declared the presence of 155 members. This was more than the 143 members needed to constitute a House quorum and proceed with the day's agenda.
RH bill co-author Pangasinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco rose on a question of collective privilege. She wanted to ask when the House plenary would begin the period of amendments on the RH bill.
But before Cojuangco could finish, Rodriguez raised a point of order to question the attendance. Then he made a scene.
Screaming, he insisted that there was no quorum.
Presiding officer Cavite Rep Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla quickly adjourned the session.
Tuesday's RH bill plenary drama was governed by House rules. In the hierarchy of what a lawmaker is allowed to do in plenary, a point of order is higher than a motion of collective privilege. Thus Rodriguez was allowed to cut Cojuangco's motion because of his "point of order."
But what takes precedence over all motions is the motion to adjourn. It is the tool that the House leadership always uses when plenary deliberations heat up.
'I will question the quorum every day'
Rodriguez was not satisfied. He approached the secretariat and continued his tirades against the supposedly wrong count of members present.
Talking to reporters after he had cooled down, Rodriguez said there were only 111 House members present in the plenary. He said he only wanted the secretariat to be more truthful.
"I told them, be truthful in the coming days. If there's a quorum, there should be a quorum. If there's none, be honest enough to say there's no quorum because I am going to stand up here. I'm going to count from 4 p.m.. Others are supposedly waving. I'm going to see who is going to wave. But you cannot have 40 people waiving at the same time," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez claimed the House leadership would try to tackle the RH bill even when there's no quorum.
"We can see that there are no warm bodies. We cannot allow this if we are going to tackle the RH bill.... This has happened before. We did not question. This time, it's too much already if we just allow it to happen," Rodriguez said.
He claimed that the RH bill is not supported by the majority of members of the House. "It is the duty of the pro-RH [representatives] to bring their warm bodies if they have the support. I believe they have no support. They cannot muster a quorum. Tomorrow, there is no quorum I'm sure because the RH supporters have already withdrawn. They better be honest about it," he said.
"I'm going to rise here everyday if there is no quorum," he said.
Sneak in RH bill?
Although House leaders already said the RH bill would not be tackled Tuesday, there was some confusion about the day's agenda.
RH bill co-author and senior deputy majority leader Iloilo Rep Janette Garin earlier told reporters the RH bill would not be tackled in the plenary pending the "informal technical working group's" (TWG) discussion on a compromise bill. House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II also claimed Rodriguez knew that RH bill would not be tackled on Tuesday.
"There's really no agenda for today to proceed with the RH bill. That is why I don't understand why Rep Rodriguez got very upset because what he was shouting there was, 'How can we declare there's a quorum and just sneak in the RH bill when there is none.' It is not fair because there is really no plan to have the RH bill today," Cojuangco told reporters.
But other RH bill co-authors were told otherwise. Akbayan Rep Walden Bello, for example, sent SMS messages to supporters of RH bill telling them they needed the warm bodies in the plenary.
What was clear was that the House leadership was going to meet the critics of the RH bill - including Rodriguez himself - at 530 pm to discuss the planned compromise bill that will try to address the concerns of the Catholic Church. Rodriguez also dismissed the TWG, saying he has already made up his mind against the RH bill.
Obviously annoyed by Rodriguez's act, Gonzales remarked: "Ang masama dito, he (Rodriguez) ascribed na parang nandaya ang aming secretariat. Ang secretariat, trabaho nila magbilang. You have to assume that they are doing the right thing. If he wants to be certain then he himself should check the attendance. He can quit as a congressman to become a member of the secretariat."
But a few minutes later, both Gonzales and Rodriguez were seen laughing together.
Cojuangco said she is already frustrated because the same representatives are monopolizing the plenary to obviously delay the RH bill. The House was supposed to begin the period of amendments on August 7 but critics of the bill took turns in delivering privilege speeches, effectively delaying tackling of the measure.
Among those frustrated by Rodriguez's surprise move was his partymate in Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito. He was promised that the House plenary would pass his Kasambahay bill on third and final reading on Tuesday.
Ejercito is still undecided on the RH bill. He said his father, former President Joseph Estrada, supports the RH bill but his mother does not. - Rappler.com
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