2 Supreme Court cases loom over Suarez's minority leadership

MANILA, Philippines – Minutes after his controversial election as minority leader, Quezon 3rd District Representative Danilo Suarez is already facing two potential Supreme Court (SC) cases questioning his post.

On Tuesday, August 7, former House majority leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas and Marikina 2nd District Representative Miro Quimbo each told Rappler their respective blocs are drafting cases questioning Suarez's minority leadership. 

After two weeks of debates, Suarez was retained as the minority leader through a vote of ayes and nays on Tuesday.

This is despite Suarez campaigning and voting for Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the House coup that unseated Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez. Suarez was also the minority leader under Alvarez.

Two other legislators had contested the minority leadership: Quimbo for the Liberal Party (LP)-Makabayan-Magnificent 7 alliance and Arts, Business, and Science Professionals Representative Eugene de Vera for the Alvarez-Fariñas bloc

How is Fariñas going to argue before the SC? Asked to confirm if he would push through with his plan to file a case before the SC against Suarez, Fariñas replied in the affirmative.

"We will as soon as we have all the annexes, like the journals, etcetera, which must be certified true copies," said Fariñas in a Viber message.

He said the "strongest point" of their case is Suarez's victory in the Baguilat vs Alvarez case, where the SC sustained Fariñas' position.

In 2016, the so-called "Magnificent 7" bloc of Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr also contested Suarez's designation 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.

Suarez was elected minority leader in 2016.

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. 

Fariñas had argued De Vera is the minority leader because he was Suarez's deputy and he was the only one from the "old" minority bloc who did not participate in the vote for Arroyo as speaker. 

The 13 members of the Alvarez-Farinas bloc elected De Vera as their minority leader on August 2.

"Since the SC has ruled that the group then headed by Suarez was the duly constituted minority; hence, that group subsists as the minority in the HOR (House of Representatives). But in the election of Speaker GMA, Rep Suarez and 13 others voted for her and, consequently, are now members of the majority," said Fariñas. 

"Since Rep De Vera is the highest and only officer of the minority as held in the Baguilat case, we applied to him and he had accepted us in the minority. Thereafter, we elected him as the minority leader," he added. 

How is Quimbo going to argue before the SC? Quimbo's bloc is also going to cite the Baguilat vs Alvarez case, but they have a different interpretation from Fariñas.  

For Quimbo, the House had reorganized itself during the election of Arroyo as speaker. 

Citing Section 8, Rule 2 of the House rules, Quimbo had argued that all those who vote in favor of Arroyo formed the new majority.  All those who voted no or abstained from voting are now part of the minority, which will have to elect their new leader. 

The 12 lawmakers who abstained from voting for Arroyo were all from the LP like Quimbo. The 7 no votes of the left-leaning Makabayan lawmakers were not recorded. The LP and Makabayan blocs later formed an alliance together with the "Magnificent 7" independent minority bloc, which consists of 5 LP members as well as Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano and Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin.

All together, the LP, Makabayan, and "Magnificent 7" legislators have 25 members as of Tuesday. They already elected Quimbo as their minority leader on July 25.

"Yes, [we will file a case with the SC]. We wanted the issue to ripen. You cannot file a case before the Supreme Court unless there is a justiciable issue. So we had to wait until they made a categorical statement. I think they even made it worse for themselves by the manner by which they declared Congressman Suarez as the minority leader," said Quimbo.

He said his bloc is using "the most elementary interpretation" of the House rules.

"The basis is very simple – the House rules! And the most elementary interpretation is that when you vote for the winning Speaker, you are part of the majority because you are part of the 50% plus one which is the requirement," said Quimbo.

"They can come up with all the legal gobbledygooks, but it's just meant to really confuse. And we're certain the Supreme Court would sustain us," he added.

Is Suarez threatened? No, he is not.  

Suarez told Rappler he won the Baguilat vs Alvarez case last year and he is confident he would win against the Quimbo-led and De Vera-led blocs, too.

"Yes, I am confident. I think the ruling will be the same," Suarez said.

"I am not threatened. But I'm just sad they had to take that recourse again," he added. 

Suarez said he is "happy" that his minority leadership has been retained and he thanked all his colleagues for giving him "their trust and confidence." – 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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