Fariñas 'going to SC' if Suarez stays as House minority leader

MANILA, Philippines – Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas warned he would go to the Supreme Court (SC) if the House of Representatives retains Quezon 3rd District Representative Danilo Suarez as the minority leader.

Fariñas made the manifestation on Monday, July 30, as lawmakers from the Liberal Party (LP)-Makabayan alliance, the Suarez bloc, and the group of Fariñas and ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez went head-to-head-to-head for the minority leadership during the plenary session.

"This is no laughing matter. As the one who wrote these rules, if you do not listen to me, Mr Speaker, I will bring the matter to the Supreme Court, and that would be very embarrassing. Why don't we discuss this and come to reason?" said Fariñas. 

The 13 members of the Alvarez-Fariñas bloc believe that after Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's election as Speaker, the only lawmaker left in the minority bloc is Arts, Business, and Science Professionals Representative Eugene de Vera. 

This is because unlike the other lawmakers in the Suarez bloc who voted yes to Arroyo, De Vera himself did not participate in the vote. Fariñas argued this means De Vera is now the acting minority leader.

Fariñas, who landed in the top 8 of the 1978 Bar Examinations, then argued that to be part of the duly constituted minority bloc, legislators should write a letter to De Vera expressing their intent to join the minority. 

The Ilocano lawmaker said he and his colleagues already wrote a letter to De Vera precisely to express their wish to be in the minority bloc. 

Where is Fariñas basing his view? The former House majority leader cited both the House rules he helped write and jurisprudence from the SC.

In 2016, the so-called "Magnificent 7" bloc of Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr also contested Suarez's claim as minority leader before the High Court.  

In past Congresses, the lawmaker who got the second highest votes in the speakership race automatically became the minority leader. At the time, Alvarez got 251 votes, Baguilat got 8 votes, and Suarez only got 7 votes as he voted for Alvarez.

Baguilat's allies argued he should have been declared as the minority leader. But the Alvarez-led majority bloc changed the rules and the minority bloc became mandated to choose their leader in a separate election. All those who did not vote for Alvarez automatically became part of the minority.

This was upheld by the SC, which said it did not find any abuse of discretion on the part of the then-majority bloc to change the House rules.

The SC said then: "Notably, the election of the Speaker of the House is the essential and formative step conducted at the first regular session of the 17th Congress to determine the constituency of the Majority and Minority (and later on, their respective leaders), considering that the Majority would be comprised of those who voted for the winning Speaker and the Minority of those who did not. The unobjected procession of the House at this juncture is reflected in its Journal No. 1 dated July 25, 2016, which, based on case law, is conclusive as to what transpired in Congress."

Does this mean Suarez is now under the Arroyo-led majority? Fariñas said so.

"As ruled by the Supreme Court, the duly constituted minority is the group of Suarez. Unfortunately, Suarez left the minority and joined the majority. That is the clear status here. Let us not confuse ourselves. It cannot be said, it will be a mockery and a malady, Mr Speaker," said Fariñas. 

"The minority has no business in electing the Speaker.... So they are now a class of their own. They are the minority," he added. 

What happens now? The heated debate over the minority leadership will continue during the session on Tuesday, July 31, at 4 pm.

On Monday, Marikina 2nd District Representative Miro Quimbo argued on the floor that because the LP and the Makabayan lawmakers were the only ones who either voted against Arroyo or abstained from voting, they are already the duly constituted minority bloc. He said they already elected him as minority leader on Monday afternoon as well.

"Dearest colleagues, honorable Speaker, it says members who vote for the winning candidate for Speaker shall constitute the majority of the House… This rule applies to whichever time this vote is made," said Quimbo, a lawyer.

But AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr, also a lawyer, interpreted the rules differently. He said the rules on the membership for the majority and the minority blocs can only be applied during the first time the lower chamber is constituted. He said it no longer applies to subsequent elections concerning the speakership. 

Newly minted Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said that for now, they are giving all 3 blocs a chance to debate among themselves. 

"It's better na mag-usap-usap sila muna to show their cards kung sino 'yung mas lamang (It would be better if they first talk among themselves, show their cards to see who really has the upper hand). What we did today is force a debate on the matter," said Andaya.

It remains to be seen if Arroyo herself would intervene in the minority leadership battle. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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