MANILA, Dec. 5, 2012—While torrential rains and howling winds pounded the south of the country, another “storm” started brewing in the plenary hall of Congress on Tuesday as rejection of proposed amendments to the reproductive health (RH) bill took place amid what seemed to be a lack of quorum, with discrepancies between the number of solons present and the results of nominal voting being discovered by vigilant anti-RH solons.
After the body concluded consideration of Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia’s proposed amendments, Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez proceeded to present his own amendments, one of which pertained to government respect for religious freedom as well.
The amendment was rejected by the body, with a total of 139 votes from House members present on the floor, after which Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay – apparently noticing a discrepancy in numbers – made a parliamentary inquiry, questioning presiding officer Lorenzo Tanada III’s decision to deny Rodriguez’s amendment, given the absence of a quorum.
The presence of 144 members is required for a quorum to be declared. Decisions arrived at in the absence of a quorum – when a member questions the quorum – are rendered void.
A commotion over the apparent inaccuracy of the vote-counting ensued, prompting Representative Janette Garin to make a motion for suspension. Simultaneously, Palawan Representative Dennis Socrates made a motion for adjournment; when Tanada announced, “session is suspended,” Socrates pointed out that his motion must be dealt with first because according to the rules, a motion for adjournment takes precedence of a motion to suspend.
Rodriguez seconded Socrates’ motion, asserting the need to adjourn session and not merely suspend. The Cagayan de Oro solon explained that since journals – which contain summaries of House proceedings – can be prepared only after adjournment of each session, this needs to be prioritized to be able to determine the results of nominal voting that took place Monday and Tuesday.
“The people have a right to know the results of the nominal voting and how each representative voted,” the Palawan lawmaker pointed out.
Tanada later walked out of the venue without declaring any decision as to either the adjournment or the duration of the suspension.
“He just left the session hall without addressing three motions – Socrates’s motion for adjournment, Magsaysay’s parliamentary inquiry, and Garin’s motion for suspension,” related one of the young life advocates in the galleries who monitors House proceedings regularly, and who stayed till nearly midnight and left with a hundred or so other anti-RH citizens out of the hall.
Pro-RH legislators quietly slipped out of the plenary hall soon after despite the non-resolution of pending motions.
By close to 11:30 the floor was nearly empty, leaving only a handful of anti-RH solons including Socrates, Magsaysay, Rodriguez, Karlo Nograles of Davao, Jose Aquino of Agusan del Norte, Hermilando Mandanas of Batangas, Rachel del Mar of Cebu, and Michael Velarde of Buhay Party List.
Also present besides some 100 life advocates from different dioceses, schools and civic groups were Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) chair Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes. Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias watched the proceedings earlier but left before the controversial discrepancies in vote-counting surfaced.
The atmosphere was a mixture of jubilation over the apparent victoryon attempts at deception regarding voting results, and solemnity as Fr. Melvin Castro, ECFL executive secretary, enjoined everyone to pray. Arguelles led the prayer, followed by a singing of the Lord’s Prayer.
Life advocates in the hall walked out of the venue chanting “Ibagsak RH bill!”
Pro-life legislators vowed to question the said decision and threatened to boycott further deliberations on other matters such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the budget, if yesterday’s pending decision will not be resolved.
Pro-life legislators asked concerned individuals and citizens opposed to the RH bill to be present during the deliberations and to offer prayers for honest proceedings concerning the strongly opposed measure. (CBCP for Life)