The clock is ticking on anti-death penalty lawmakers

Mara Cepeda
The clock is ticking on anti-death penalty lawmakers
House rules state every lawmaker has the right to speak for an hour in a plenary debate, but after a recent majority ruling, anti-death penalty congressmen now have fewer minutes on the floor

Time is literally running out for congressmen attempting to block the return of the death penalty in the country. 

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is already targeting the middle of March for the passage of House Bill (HB) Number 4727, and he is bent on seeing this through with a threat against House leaders who will vote against the measure.

But even on the plenary floor, every lawmaker who will interpellate the bill’s sponsors will find limited minutes to argue against the death penalty. 

This comes after a questionable interpretation of the House rule allotting a one-hour speaking time per congressman that was agreed upon by a majority of lawmakers during the February 8 death penalty debate.

A back and forth exchange was occurring between anti-death penalty lawmaker and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman and HB 4727 sponsor and House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali at the time. (FULL TEXT: Death penalty will fuel culture of violence – Lagman)

Deputy Speaker Mylene Garcia-Albano then interrupted the two and requested that Lagman end his interpellation as he had already gone beyond his time limit. 

She cited Section 91, Rule XII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, which states: “A Member shall not be allowed to speak for more than one (1) hour in debate on any question. No Member shall speak more than once on the same question without leave of the House, unless the Member is the proponent of the motion or has introduced the question or the matter pending, in which case the Member shall be permitted to speak in reply, but not until every Member who chooses to speak on the pending question or matter shall have spoken.”

But Lagman objected to Albano’s request, arguing that the leadership should not be including in his time count the minutes Umali spent replying to his questions.  

“Madam Speaker, I have not spoken for more than one hour in my interpellation. I would appeal to the records of the House on the minutes I have consumed. Because in counting the one hour, we should not include the time utilized by the sponsor,” said Lagman.

“My questions are short, but the answers of the sponsors are inordinately long. So my one hour has not been consumed,” appealed Lagman.

Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc, however, raised a point of order and referred to the clock in the plenary hall to explain that Lagman was supposedly talking for one hour and 32 minutes already.

But Lagman continued to fight the majority lawmakers. 

Tactics

“The clock is not the reckoning of the time I have consumed. It should be the transcription which should tell us how many minutes I have consumed. But if the leadership of the House would like to gag me, then they can do that,” said the opposition legislator. 

He was then given another 5 minutes to further explain before Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas stood up and asked his colleagues to finally vote on Lagman’s appeal. (READ: Fariñas warns: Don’t use quorum to delay death penalty debate)

“The gentleman appealed the ruling of the chair. He has explained his appeal. Now we will now vote on the appeal. For the guidance of the members, a vote of yes on the appeal or ‘aye’ will uphold the appeal. So a vote of ‘nay’ will deny the appeal,” said Fariñas.

Albano then proceeded to oversee the ayes and nays vote despite Lagman repeatedly calling out “Madam chair! Madam chair!” on the microphone. 

There was a resounding “Nay!” among the 156 lawmakers present, so Lagman lost his appeal.  

This ruling means that should HB 4727’s sponsors spend a good number of minutes answering the questions addressed to them, it would be to the detriment of the anti-death penalty lawmakers’ respective time limits.  

It remains to be seen if they can make a good case against capital punishment in the coming days. (READ: Plunder removed from crimes listed in death penalty bill

Time is gold, they say. At the House, where the battle for the death penalty’s return is raging, the value of time seems higher than ever before. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.