Congress of the Philippines

House minority as watchdog? Former Mindanao congressmen cross fingers

Herbie Gomez
House minority as watchdog? Former Mindanao congressmen cross fingers

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. The House plenary hall.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

'What is lacking is individual accountability. What we are seeing now is collective accountability which is equivalent to no accountability at all,' says former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno who once served as a House minority member

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Two former Mindanao congressmen on Wednesday, July 27, expressed apprehension over the prospects of the new minority in the House of Representatives performing their watchdog role.

Naguguluhan ako (I’m confused),” said former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno of the composition of the new House minority led by 4Ps Partylist Representative Marcelino Libanan.

Moreno started his political career in 1998 when he served as a House minority member who represented Misamis Oriental, and one of the prosecutors in the aborted impeachment trial of then-president Joseph Estrada two decades ago.

Another former congressman from Mindanao, Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna, told Rappler, “I will reserve my judgment on the newly constituted minority as a fiscalizing bloc since there are those who are actually nominal minority but whose legislative track record always aligned with the majority and Malacañang.”

Blurred lines

Moreno said the lines between the House majority and minority have been blurred, and it looked to him that what it has now is a “chosen minority.”

“What is lacking is individual accountability. What we are seeing now is collective accountability which is equivalent to no accountability at all,” he said.

Moreno said even the Senate lost members in the league of the late senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor Santiago, among others.

“Those days are gone. Hopefully, we would see new pillars surface from among the members of the new minority of both houses,” Moreno said.

When joining the majority is awkward

In the Senate, only senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros are with the minority. 

But Pimentel, whose family suffered during the years of the Marcos dictatorship, has yet to find his rightful place in the country’s opposition owing to his six years as a member of the Senate majority during the Duterte administration. 

The majority of Duterte’s followers in the Senate are also allies of the Marcos administration now.

Pimentel’s father, the late former senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., was a political detainee and prominent opposition leader in Mindanao during the Marcos dictatorship.

Like Pimentel, two other senators, siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, opted not to be with the Senate majority, and formed an independent bloc. Moreno said this was so because it would have been “awkward” for the Cayetanos to do so given their history with the Marcoses.

When Alan Cayetano clashed head-on with fellow vice presidential candidate Marcos in 2016, he had decried the abuses committed during the first Marcos administration and even accused the Marcos family of amassing billions of dollars during the years of dictatorship.

Minority can’t shine with numbers

Moreno said Pimentel, who was designated Senate minority leader, was in the position to leave a mark as a no-nonsense fiscalizer during the last three years of his final term as senator.

“He (Pimentel) was a member of the Senate majority during the previous administration. For six years, he held back because he followed protocols. Now, he can seize this moment, and he can shine,” he said.

Moreno said members of the minority “can’t shine with numbers but with powerful arguments.”

“It’s the soundness of their arguments that would matter. One can do that without being an obstructionist,” he said.

Banking on the weakened Makabayan bloc

Zarate, for his part, said he was banking on the three remaining members of the progressive Makabayan bloc to maintain their independence and carry out their role as fiscalizers as part of the House minority. 

Of the groups under the Makabayan bloc, Zarate’s Bayan Muna suffered the biggest loss in the May elections, getting only 0.60% of the party-list votes. 

Until the May elections, Bayan Muna had consistently won since 2001. The 219,848 votes it garnered were not enough to win it a House seat and were a far cry from the 1,117,402 it garnered in the 2019 elections.

It was a crushing defeat for Bayan Muna, a loss it attributed to former president Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against left-leaning groups, disinformation, and red-tagging, aggravated by Bayan Muna’s failure to campaign full blast due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Makabayan bloc was significantly weakened, too, losing three of the House seats it won in 2019.

Zarate said the three remaining members of the Makabayan bloc – representatives France Castro of ACT Teachers, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, and Raoul Danniel Manuel of Kabataan – would need to forge stronger alliances with some independent-minded representatives “in further amplifying the voice of the opposition in the House.”

Committee membership for senior members

Former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo, Makabayan president, noted that ACT Teachers’ Castro and Gabriela’s Brosas were in a position to push progressive causes as senior House members.

Kabataan’s Manuel, the third Makabayan bloc member, is serving his first term as a congressman.

Ocampo also noted that Castro, being the House deputy minority leader, will be an ex-officio voting member of all House committees.

Brosas, he said, would also be a voting member of the powerful House committee on rules, like Castro.

The House minority members elected Libanan, who served as commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration during the Arroyo administration, as their leader. Libanan also served as Eastern Samar representative.

Aside from Libanan and the three Makabayan bloc representatives, the other members of the House minority are:

  • Johnathan Clement Abalos II (4Ps Partylist)
  • Bonifacio Bosita (1-Rider Partylist)
  • Lex Anthony Cris Colada (AAMBIS-OWA Partylist)
  • Sergio Dagooc (APEC Partylist)
  • Paul Daza (Northern Samar)
  • Presley de Jesus (PHILRECA Partylist);
  • Nicolas Enciso VIII (Bicol Saro Partylist)
  • Felimon Espares (COOP-NATCCO Partylist)
  • Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez (1-Rider Partylist)
  • Mujiv Hataman (Basilan)
  • Bernadette Herrera (BH Partylist)
  • Wilbert Lee (AGRI Partylist)
  • Marissa Magsino (OFW Partylist)
  • Florencio Noel (An Waray Partylist)
  • Harris Christopher Ongchuan (Northern Samar)
  • Joseph Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod Partylist)
  • Jeffrey Soriano (ACT-CIS Partylist)
  • Reynolds Michael Tan (Samar)
  • Stephen James Tan (Samar)
  • Rosanna Vergara (Nueva Ecija)

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