House goes on 5-session days a week to pass BBL; Senate sets no deadline

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 September) — Starting Monday, September 7, the House of Representatives will be holding five session days a week – from Monday to Friday – instead of three session days – to work on the priority bills, including the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), before Congress goes on recess from October 10 to November 2.

But whether or not the House leadership can guarantee a quorum in the additional two session days when it could hardly have a quorum Mondays to Wednesdays, remains a question.

Even Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. in in interview over the Manila-based DZBB on Sunday morning, could not guarantee this. He also acknowledged that many representatives do not like the additional session days because of the election season.

“Not many congressmen like that because it is political season now,” Belmonte said, according to the transcript of the DZBB interview.

At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters on September 3 that they are not contemplating holding sessions on Thursdays and Fridays because “the budget does not come to the Senate until the first week of November.”

“We still have time until October 9. The budget is not yet on the floor, it is still in the committee. So we are not contemplating on having a Thursday or Friday session,” Drilon said, according to the transcript of the interview posted on the Senate website.

At the House of Representatives, interpellation was supposed to resume on August 4 but between then and Sept. 2, the last session day last week, only three representatives had finished interpellation due to quorum problems.

On August 23, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL told MindaNews: “There will be quorum tomorrow (Monday) up to Wednesday. We will have interpellations. We still have time to finish the bill by September 15.”

Seven session days

There are only seven session days (including the additional sessions on Thursday and Friday) between September 7 and September 15.

Rodriguez told MindaNews then that several representatives had backed out from the list and that there were only 16 representatives left to interpellate, including Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who had started but not finished their interpellation.

Biazon finished his interpellation on Sept. 2. Lobregat told MindaNews last month that he was still midway in his interpellation when it was suspended on June 10. But on Sept. 6, Lobregat told MindaNews his interpellation has now covered 60% because Biazon asked some of the questions he would have wanted to ask.

He said he would let the other representatives interpellate first.

Belmonte noted that public opinion on the problem of quorum apparently made an impact because it was “sufficient for us to have a quorum during the past days and a very good quorum.”

“Impossible dream”

Belmonte admitted “time (is) running out” because many representatives want to interpellate and that is their right as it is the right of the House leadership to “terminate it or limit it if they have the votes, if they have the numbers.”

He said he is confident their version of the bill, although still subject to further amendment, would pass. “Walang karason-rason not to pass it or not to take it up to the point of voting on it. At that point kanya kanyang kunsiyensya na o kanya kanyang political evaluation na ang mangyayari. Pero at least, maidala ko man lang don sa point na yon is really what I’m after,” the Speaker said.

But he acknowledged that getting the House and the Senate “to agree on a version before we concentrate on the (2016) budget is really nagiging impossible dream na (becoming an impossible dream already). Pero we still have to go at it to show that peace in Mindanao as exemplified by the BBL is a continuing concern. It will still get a big chunk of our time.”

Rodriguez had earlier said HB 5811 should be passed before September 28 because by then the 2016 budget will go to the House plenary for debates.

Asked if they would continue deliberating on the BBL after the recess in case the BBL won’t be passed before October 10, Belmonte told DZBB, “yes theoretically it is possible to do that. And maybe we will have to do that.”

Asked what guarantee he could give that there would be quorum on Thursdays and Fridays, Belmonte said he welcomes suggestions on how to get the representatives to attend the sessions. “The only suggestion that I had is really (to publish the names of those who responded to the call for quorum). Pero as you said, yes naka record sila as present pero kung later on bago magkainitan naman ang usapan ay mawala naman sila, you’re right, that is a continuing problem…”

Asked if he would impose disciplinary action, Belmonte replied: “We are all intelligent people…we all know our responsibilities to the people. (I do not want) to treat them as children na ganito ganyan. As leader, my appeal is to their…why did they become congressmen in the first place? Para makapaglingkod, primarily…There are many ways to serve or course…but the one that we are called to do right now is to act on these urgent matters,” he said.

No deadline

At the Senate, Drilon said they are “not imposing a deadline” but “will exert every effort to pass it” before Congress goes on recess on October 10 to November 2.

“Our objective is to pass this before we go on a break,” the transcript of the interview posted on the Senate website, said. Interpellation of SB 2894, the Senate’s substitute bill to the draft, started on August 24.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government and principal sponsor of SB 2894, had earlier said he does not think there should be a deadline for the passage of the BBL.

Asked by Senate reporters if Drilon had spoken with Marcos on deadlines, Drilon replied, “I’m not imposing any deadline… As I have said, we will exert every effort to pass it. I hope you will not misinterpret it as a deadline. We are not imposing any deadline. We have been open on this. We have talked to each senator and Senator Bongbong can attest to the fact that we have never set any deadline.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)