136 make a quorum!

Four more lawmakers
present at FOI session

FOUR MORE members of the House of Representatives yesterday said they were among those wrongly named as absent — according to a list provided by Speaker Prospero Nograles to the media – during the roll call at the Session Hall last Friday, June 4, when the ratification of the Freedom of Information Act was scuttled for supposed lack of a quorum.

The four bring to eight the number of lawmakers erroneously tagged as not physically present during the roll call.

The eight bring to 136 – one more than the 135 threshold for a quorum in the 269-member House – the number of lawmakers that was needed to constitute a quorum and act on the motion to ratify the FOI bicameral conference committee report.

Earlier, media reports had quoted four lawmakers as saying they were actually present during the roll call on Friday – Senior  Deputy Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Rizal Rep. Michael John “Jack” Duavit, AMIN Party-List Rep. Mujiv Hataman, and South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pingoy.

The four additional lawmakers who were also present include Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo – according to video taken by the PCIJ at the Session Hall during the roll call on Friday – as well as Bantay Party-List Rep. Jovito Palparan, Cebu Rep. Pablo P. Garcia, and Caloocan City Rep. Oscar Malapitan.

Until last night, however, the office of the House Secretary-General, Atty. Marilyn Barua-Yap,  had not responded to PCIJ’s inquiries about an official list of the lawmakers who were present and absent last June 4.

A request filed June 7 by the office of Quezon Rep. Erin Tanada for an official copy of the roll call was met with a non-reply yesterday from Ma. Queenette DL. Masangcay, the House’s Journal Service director.

“In view of several complaints relative to the attendance of the members during the roll call on that day, the Secretariat is reviewing all available records regarding the matter,” Masangcay wrote Tanada.  “To date, two members were identified as having been present but were inadvertently marked as absent during that day.”

“As such,” she wrote, “we are not yet in a position to officially release the names of the members present during the roll call on that day.”

What follows are quotes from the lawmakers interviewed by the PCIJ yesterday:

Palparan: (Asked if he was the person shown on the PCIJ video) “S’yempre, hindi magsisinungaling ang video… Nagtaas pa nga ako ng kamay, but I moved three seats away from my assigned seat. I saw (Alagad Party-List Rep. Rodante)  Marcoleta, but he came in late. Tumabi sa akin si Marcoleta.”

Garcia: “I was present during the roll call. But I did not need to raise my hand because the House secretariat was in an elevated position and I think they saw me. I was behind the lectern. It was my son, Pablo John, who was absent, not I.”

Malapitan told the PCIJ that he attended Friday’s session but was “a liitle bit” late. “Pero pag ma-late ka, present ka pa rin, there’s no such thing as late.” He said he would write the House secretary general to clarify that he was present.

Pingoy: “I was there until the roll call. Nag-clarify na nga ako sa Secretariat. I even wrote a letter to Speaker Nograles and the House secretary general last Monday.  I told them I was present.  We didn’t need to raise our hand (during the roll-call). ‘Di naman practice mag-raise ng hand.”

Pingoy told the PCIJ that when he arrived at the session hall last Friday, two of his colleagues at the House from the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD told him that “Kung puwede mawala ka sa floor (during the roll call).”

Hataman said he was mulling “legal action” on the “misreported” list of  congressmen who were supposedly absent last Friday.  “Baka pwedeng may legal action… I’m discussing this with my colleagues…  Dapat imbestigahan ito ng (House) Secretariat.”

Huwag naman nilang dayain ang attendance… Ang sabi ko sa kanila (House secretariat)  open n’yo ang CCTV para makita ang ebidensya,” said Hataman.

“I was even raising my hand during the roll-call. magkatabi pa kami ni (Rep.) Joel (Villanueva). I was also planning to join Abante, Risa, and Erin as they press to have the FOI bill ratified. I co-authored the FOI bill,” he added.

He said he could not be absent last Friday because he also wanted to make sure that the proposed Anti-Racial Discrimination Act would be tackled on the floor, which he principally authored.

Pero naging collateral damage siya,” said Hataman.  – PCIJ, June 2010