Battle for House minority may reach Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines — The quarrel among three groups claiming to be the minority in the House of Representatives is poised to reach the Supreme Court (SC).

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, former majority leader, and Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, former deputy speaker, said yesterday they would go to the SC if the new leadership under Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recognizes Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez as still the minority leader.

Both Fariñas and Quimbo said Suarez, his senior deputy Lito Atienza of party-list group Buhay and 12 of the minority lost their membership and became part of the new majority when they voted for Arroyo on July 23.

However, the two don’t agree on who is now the minority leader, a position Suarez continues to claim.

For Fariñas, the minority leadership has passed on to Eugene Michael de Vera of party-list group Arts, Business and Science, one of Suarez’s deputies, who abstained from voting when Arroyo was elected Speaker.

The former majority leader said De Vera, as next in line to Suarez and Atienza, should succeed his minority bosses who had effectively given up their posts by voting for Arroyo.

“Miro Quimbo cannot claim to be minority leader because that position was not declared vacant when we elected a new Speaker. The system of succession should operate,” he said.

He said he, ousted Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and 13 of their former majority colleagues have applied to be part of the minority and that De Vera has already accepted them.

“So we are the legitimate minority. We have already written the new Speaker to recognize us,” he added.

Under the rules of the House, the majority has to recognize the minority and its leader.

In a letter to Arroyo, De Vera said he has “accepted the application of the former members of the majority to the minority.”

He identified them as Alvarez, Fariñas, Reps. Juan Pablo Bondoc (Pampanga), Rey Umali (Oriental Mindoro), Roger Mercado (southern Leyte), Lucy Torres-Gomez (Leyte), Johnny Pimentel (Surigao del Sur), Rodito Albano (Isabela), Joel Mayo Almario (Davao Oriental), ArnelUy (LPGMA), Aileen Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City), Ruwel Gonzaga (Compostela Valley), Monsour del Rosario (Makati) and MauyagPapandayan Jr. (Lanao del Sur).

But Quimbo said in a television interview he and his party mates in the Liberal Party and the seven members of the Makabayan bloc “are the new minority because we either abstained or voted against Speaker Arroyo.”

He said it is clear in the House rules that those who vote against the  Speaker or abstain from voting belong to the minority.

“We are 22 and counting, and my colleagues have elected me as their leader. We have written the new Speaker to recognize us,” he said.

Quimbo in fact has printed a new letterhead with the title “Minority Leader.”

The Suarez camp welcomed the plan of the Fariñas-Alvarez and Quimbo-LP groups to challenge its claim to the minority leadership.

“They should do that. But as of now, we are the minority and Congressmen Suarez is our minority leader. We have a Supreme Court ruling to that effect,” Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. of Ako Bicol said.

He was referring to the July 2017 SC decision upholding the election of Suarez as minority leader and the House majority’s recognition of him.

If Fariñas and Quimbo make good their plan to go to the high court, it would be a reprise of the 2016 fight between Suarez and Ifugao Rep. TeodoroBaguilat Jr. for the minority post.

However, time is not on the side of those who want to grab the minority leadership, since it took the SC one year to resolve the Suarez-Baguilat row. The 17th Congress has only 10 months to go.

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said they are still recognizing the group of Suarez, noting that lawmakers only nominated and voted for Arroyo last SONA and did not declare Suarez’s post vacant.

Andaya also jestingly likened the House minority issue to the West Philippine Sea row.

“Our minority leadership issue is very much like the West Philippine Sea – there are just so many claimants,” the Camarines Sur congressman said.

Meanwhile, President Duterte’s PDP-Laban is meeting tomorrow to discuss whether to give Arroyo a higher position in the party.

“I have not yet talked to former president now House Speaker Gloria (Arroyo) whether she is interested to have a position in PDP, considering her busy schedule. So I don’t know, we still have to discuss that,” party vice chairman Alfonso Cusi said on the sidelines of the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) chairmanship turnover ceremony yesterday.

Late last year, Arroyo  joined the PDP-Laban “to consolidate support for the President.”

She took her oath as full-fledged member of the party before secretary general and then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Before transferring to PDP-Laban, Arroyo was part of the supermajority in the lower house.

After taking over the Speakership from Alvarez, some members of PDP-Laban recommended that Arroyo be given a higher position in the party, according to reports. But Cusi said the matter had to be discussed first.

“The last time I talked with GMA, she said that she will continue to remain with PDP-Laban, she did not signify otherwise,” he said, referring to Arroyo by her initials.

“We can’t just tell her to have this position without discussing it first. Besides, I don’t know the Speaker’s plans,” he said in Filipino.  –  With DelonPorcalla, Danessa Rivera

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