The controversial session of lawmakers at a sports club may be allowed as long as they constituted a quorum, according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
In his “Counterpoint” program Monday, Panelo has invoked the constitutional provision on the “majority rule” in the legislative affairs, saying these lawmakers can do business even if the assembly is held outside Batasan Pambansa.
More than 180 lawmakers installed Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as new House Speaker during a session at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City Monday, booting out his rival Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano from the top post. Cayetano, however, rejected Velasco’s election, saying it was an invalid House session since it was not held at the Batasan.
Panelo had a different take on the matter, pointing out that nowhere in the Constitution states that the election of Speaker must be conducted at the Batasan.
“Ang tanong, pwede ba sila mag-meet under the Constitution? Ako sa tingin ko bilang abogado, ‘yung mga miyembro ng Kongreso ang regla kasi diyan majority rule so if you meet and you constitute a quorum — kung 300 sila, o di ang quorum nun 150 plus one , 151 may quorum na kayo so they can decide whatever they want to do basta may quorum (The question is they can meet under the Constitution? As a lawyer, I think that majority rule governs the members of Congress. So if you met and constituted a quorum — let’s say if they are 300, the quorum is 150 plus one, you have a quorum at 151. They can decide whatever they want to do as long as there is a quorum,” he said.
“Ang tanong: hindi ba dapat sa Kongreso, kasi sabi natin Celebrity plaza, eh tinitingnan ko naman ang saligang-batas kanina, wala naman sinasabi na doon mismo sa Kongreso (On questions if it should be done in Congress instead of Celebrity para, I’ve checked the Constitution earlier and nothing there states that it should be done in Congress),” he said.
On claims that there was no official mace at the pro-Velasco gathering, Panelo asserted that having a quorum of lawmakers is more important than such a symbol.
“Sa atin, simbolo lang ang mace, mace na yan. Sa atin po ang mahalaga diyan, mayroon ka bang quorum. Kung may quorum ka, puwede talaga yan (For us, mace is just a symbol. For us, the important thing is you have a quorum. If you have a quorum, that’s possible. That’s my personal opinion),” he said.
On questions if the House rules clearly state the election of Speaker must be done at Batasan, Panelo insisted that if the Constitution did not state the venue of such activity, the election outside the Batasan complex may still be possible.
“What is important is the majority rule. ‘Yun naman ang demokrasya di ba (that’s the essence of democracy right),” he said.
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives shall elect its Speaker by a majority vote of all its members and may choose other officers if deemed necessary. “A majority of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day and may compel the attendance of absent Members in such manner, and under such penalties, as such House may provide,” the Constitution read.
Panelo, however, recognized that only the Supreme Court may decide on the legality of the House activity. He noted that some groups that opposed the House activity may raise their complaint before the high court, the final arbiter of the law.
Panelo made the remarks prior to the election of Velasco by his peers Monday afternoon. Lawmakers declared the House Speaker post vacant while the Palace official was hosting his program on state television.