Sunday, July 29, 2007

An early reorg of the Senate?

In a previous piece, I showed how the Senate botched the most basic rules of parliamentary procedure during its inaugural session last week. I was hoping I would not have to write again so soon on the same subject. But I have just read the official transcript of proceedings and the Journal of the Senate of Session No. 1, Monday 23, 2007, and I am appalled.

Both official documents, which now belong to posterity, say that the first regular session of the Senate of the 14th Congress of the Philippines was opened on the morning of July 23, 2007 by “Senate President Manny Villar.”

There was no “Senate President Manny Villar” at the time the session opened. There was only a Senator Manny Villar. His opening the session as “Senate President Manny Villar” constitutes a usurpation of the office of Senate President. That can be neither excused nor justified.

The statement in both the transcript and the Journal recognizing Villar as Senate President at a time when he was not the Senate President constitutes a gross misrepresentation and falsification of the facts and the official records of the Senate. That, too, can be neither excused nor justified.

Under the Rules of the Senate --- this is a small handbook published by the Senate--- whenever there is neither a President nor a President Pro Tempore, the first session in which the Senators elected in the immediately preceding regular elections shall participate, the Secretary of the Senate shall open the session and announce that the business in order is the designation of the temporary President, who shall preside until the election of a Senate President.

Secretary Oscar Yabes had reportedly resigned before the inaugural session. But until his resignation was accepted by the Senate he was still the Secretary; or by operation of law, an Acting Secretary should have assumed his duties. But his resignation was never submitted to the Senate nor was it even referred to before his successor was elected. That, too, can neither be excused nor justified.

On Jan. 25, 1960, during the third regular session of the fourth Congress, an unknown Assistant Secretary of the Senate named Abelardo C. Austriaco opened the inaugural session of the Senate, pursuant to the Rules. His only duty was to open the session and to ask the Senate to designate a temporary President. On Senator Cipriano Primicias’s motion, Senator Quintin Paredes was named temporary president, and later the Senate elected Eulogio “Among” Rodriguez as Senate President. The same thing could have been done by the present Senate.

But Senate sources are saying, not out of sheer malice, I hope, that one reason Villar had to preside, even without any legal authority, was because he had invited the Las Pinas Boys Choir to lead the singing of the national anthem, and they would never have understood if he did not preside. I am hoping that this is entirely false, but if true, then we’re seeing the final days of the Senate.

In the case of Sen. Francis Pangilinan, his usurpation of the duties of Senate Majority Leader leads to a more blatant falsification of the Journal. While Sen. Gringo Honasan nominated him for the position of Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Alan Peter seconded the nomination for the same position, the Journal speaks of Honasan nominating Pangilinan, and Cayetano seconding the nomination, for the position of Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Majority Leader. That is a complete fabrication.

Rule X, Section 13 (1) of the Rules of the Senate provides: “The Chairman of the Committee (on Rules) shall be the Majority Leader of the Senate. The Vice Chairmen shall be the Assistant Majority Leaders.” So one is elected Chairman of Rules, and he or she automatically becomes Majority Floor Leader.

But Honasan did not nominate Pangilinan as Chairman of Rules. His erroneous nomination was never corrected by the Chair or anyone on the Floor. Villar simply declared him elected as Chairman of Rules, without putting it on record that no one is elected Majority Leader, and that the Chair understood the nomination as one for the position of Chairman of Rules, rather than for Majority Leader. The Journal was fabricating when it said Pangilinan was nominated, and elected as Chairman of Rules and Majority Leader.

These are not mere offenses against parliamentary procedure.

Two days later, Sen. Panfilo Lacson called attention to the error, and moved to correct the Journal by replacing the term, Senate Majority Floor Leader with “Chairman of the Committee on Rules.” The Senate approved the motion, but this merely compounded the falsification.

The Journal is meant to be a faithful summary of the proceedings. Senators are allowed to correct it, when something said or done by any member is erroneously recorded. But one cannot delete from the Journal the faithful rendering of an erroneous motion or statement, and make it appear as though the error had never been made. The error should be corrected, and the correction recorded in the Journal of the session when the correction was made, but the previous Journal which accurately recorded the error may not be changed.

In the Senate Journal of July 23, what should be deleted are the references to the Committee on Rules, which neither Honasan nor Cayetano made on the Floor, not the erroneous reference to Senate Majority Leader, which was the only one made in the nomination speech. Lacson was correct in pointing out the erroneous nomination and election; he should have moved to purge the Journal of its fabrications and falsifications, and then renominated Pangilinan as Chairman of Rules, after asking the Senate to consider his “election” as Senate Majority Leader invalid.

What happened during President Estrada’s Senate impeachment trial provides a useful guide. After Chavit Singson had told the court that Atong Ang had delivered P130 million to the Estrada residence, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile asked Singson what would be the weight of P130 million in P1,000-bank notes. Singson said he did not know. Enrile said, 1,000 pieces of P1,000 notes (or P1 million) would weigh one kilogram. So P130 million would weigh 130 kilos ---a little too heavy for one man to carry.

At which point, Sen. Ramon Revilla, Bong Revilla’s father, rose to correct Enrile’s figure. He said he had a weighing scale for chicken at home, and had tried weighing money on it. And the weight of 1,000 pieces of P1,000 bills, he said, was 96 grams, not one kilo. This statement entered the Journal of that day. The next day, Revilla rose to say it was not 96 grams, as he had earlier said, but 960 grams. He then moved that his reference to 96 grams be deleted from the record.

As Majority Leader at the time, I had to explain that the correction would be recorded in the Journal of the session when it was made, but the original figure of 96 grams would have to stay as recorded in the Journal of the session when the error was made.

Revilla’s error did not involve the integrity of the Senate and its proceedings. The errors involving Villar, Yabes and Pangilinan do. If the senators begin to act more like senators, we should not be surprised if there should occur a sudden reorganization of the Senate.

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