(Delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman)
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of personal and collective privilege regarding the status and recognition of the Minority Leader subsequent to yesterday’s election for the Speakership.
Colleagues, both in the Majority and Minority, tri-media and social media and interested parties are puzzled why the Honorable Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. of the Lone District of Ifugao up to now has not been officially recognized as the Minority Leader.
The House of Representatives of the 17th Congress cannot democratically function without a Minority Leader. Moreover, the Rules Committee cannot also function with only the Majority represented. Our Rules provide that the Minority Leader and five Deputy Minority Leaders shall be automatic members of the Committee on Rules.
It is indubitable and uncontestable that Rep. Baguilat, Jr. is the new Minority Leader for the following overriding reasons:
1. As the runner-up candidate for Speaker, by tradition and practice he is automatically the Minority Leader, having garnered more votes than the other candidate for Speaker, the Hon. Danilo Suarez.
Lehr Fess, an American parliamentarian, posited that "Like the common law, parliamentary law is largely based upon customary practices regulating procedure in group action as developed throughout the centuries."
It has been the customary practice or tradition of the House of Representatives to officially consider the runner-up or the candidate for the position of Speaker garnering the second highest number of votes as the Minority Leader. The validity of this practice has never been questioned.
The practice has been invariably adopted and acquiesced in from one Congress to another that it has acquired the character of a law or binding rule on the Majority, the Minority or the Independent Members of the House of Representatives.
2. Rep. Suarez has disqualified himself from seeking the position of Minority Leader because he unequivocally voted for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. During the voting yesterday, Rep. Suarez said: "Madam Presiding Officer, I cannot vote for myself. I am casting my vote for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez."
In the first place, the premise of Rep. Suarez’s statement is incorrect. He is not prohibited from voting for himself. In the 16th Congress, the Hon. Ronaldo Zamora, a contender for the Speakership, voted for himself and the Hon. Martin Romualdez, another contender, also voted for himself. When Rep. Suarez categorically voted for Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, he joined the ranks of the Majority pursuant to Sec. 8 of Rule 2 of the Rules of the House which provides: "Members who vote for the winning candidate for Speaker shall constitute the Majority in the House."
The seven votes cast for Rep. Suarez may even be eventually declared invalid because he subsequently aligned himself with the Majority by voting for the eventual winner for Speaker.
3. The Majority Leader must perforce recognize Rep. Baguilat, Jr. as the Minority Leader. He is in estoppel because when he recognized Rep. Harry Roque to nominate Rep. Suarez for Speaker and also recognized Rep. Raul Daza to nominate Rep. Baguilat, Jr. also for Speaker, he was then fully aware that there were two contenders for the position of Minority Leader, because the victory of Hon. Pantaleon Alvarez was a foregone conclusion. When Rep. Baguilat, Jr. bested Rep. Suarez, it is clear and unmistakable that Rep. Baguilat, Jr. is now the Minority Leader.
4. The 20 Members of the House who abstained, with the exception of the Hon. Alvarez, the overwhelming winner for Speaker, are neither with the Majority or the Minority. Under the last paragraph of Sec. 8 of Rule 2, they are considered as “independent Members of the House”. The pertinent provision of the Rules unequivocally provides:
"Members who choose not to align themselves with the Majority or the Minority shall be considered as independent Members of the House. They may, however, choose to join the Majority or the Minority upon written request to and approval thereof by the Majority or the Minority, as the case may be."
Verily, those who abstained did not choose to align themselves with either the Majority or Minority.
With due respect, the opinion of the Majority Leader that those who abstained are members of the Minority find no anchorage in the Rules of the House. Such interpretation is virtually compelling those who abstained to belong to the Minority. This construction violates both the spirit and phraseology of the Rules.
Under the foregoing factual setting with only 15 Members of the House constituting the Minority, eight (8) for Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr. and seven (7) for Rep. Suarez, an election for the Minority leader is an exercise in futility. The victory of Rep. Baguilat, Jr. is certain as eight (8) is more than seven (7) by any mathematical computation.
Like in the 16th Congress when Rep. Zamora won by three (3) votes over Rep. Romualdez, Rep. Zamora was automatically recognized as the Minority Leader and there was no need for an election among the Minority members even with the existence of the provision under Section 8 of Rule 2 that “The Minority Leader shall be elected by the members of the Minority”. This provision will only apply when there is no clear cut winner for the position of Minority leader like when two (2) or more contenders are tied with the same number of votes.
Moreover, the Minority Leader had already been elected by the Members of the Minority when they cast their votes for the contenders for the Speakership.
Accordingly, the Hon. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. must perforce be recognized forthwith as the current Minority Leader. It is utterly suspicious, if not downright anomalous, why there is undue procrastination in recognizing Minority Leader Baguilat, Jr.