Friday, September 19, 2008

Minority senators face arrest over absences

Senators belonging to the minority bloc face arrest, if their boycott of the session continues on Monday, lawmakers said Thursday.

There was no session Thursday, as sessions are normally held Mondays to Wednesdays.

When the minority senators failed to show up Wednesday, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago moved for their arrest, adding jokingly that Sen. Gregorio Honasan head the arresting team.

But in a more serious note, Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada pointed out that the Senate rules giving the presiding officer the power to order the arrest of truant senators apply only when there is no quorum.

Thirteen senators attended Wednesday’s session, enough to enable the Senate to proceed with their business of the day. Those present were Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., Senate Majority Leader Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Senators Santiago, Honasan, Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Richard Gordon, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Alan Peter Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Lito Lapid and Joker Arroyo.

The absence of the senators from the minority bloc prevented any substantial movement of priority measures, such as those amending the Fire Code and passing a measure on renewable energy. Villar earlier pushed for the approval of the Fire Code, which had been pending for several years.

Zubiri said the individual amendments to the renewable energy bill, which he was sponsoring, were already in the late stages.

Enrile and Zubiri said the absence of the minority senators had derailed the timetable for important pieces of legislation.

Santiago had proposed that the majority take advantage of the absence of the minority by approving all administration measures.

Arroyo and Escudero said they should adjourn even if there was quorum because at least one minority senator should be present in sessions.

But the senators of the majority bloc opposed the move to adjourn. In the end, Villar ruled that while the Senate should continue with its business, it should not approve any bill.

The Senate then proceeded to the individual amendments to the renewable energy bill but stopped short of passing them on second reading.

Santiago also moved for the insertion of the Senate records of her sponsorship speeches on the concurrence of the Senate on the ratification of three Philippine treaties on mutual legal assistance with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and with Spain and South Korea.

The absence of the minority enabled the Senate to conduct its business without the tumult that had characterized the two previous sessions when they were discussing the alleged “double entry” on the C-5 road extension project.

Cayetano said he did not believe that the absence of the minority on Wednesday was merely coincidental. “They were absent because they wanted to prolong this issue [double entry] until next week.”

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