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Poll fever leaves House empty


01:18 AM November 16th, 2012

By: Leila B. Salaverria, November 16th, 2012 01:18 AM

It seems many lawmakers are burning with election fever that they have failed to attend the House of Representatives’ regular sessions.

More than half of the House members did not show up during each of three plenary sessions this week, prompting officials to adjourn the meetings and let crucial bills languish on the back burner.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the midterm elections in May must have swayed his colleagues into focusing on matters in their districts in preparation for the polls, hence the many empty seats in the session hall.

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said he would not let such a situation continue and would remind lawmakers of their duty.

Belmonte said he would have text messages sent to the representatives reminding them of the sessions and was confident there would be a quorum on Monday.

The sessions during the last quarter of this year are supposed to be crunch time, when lawmakers resolve important measures because they are expected to adjourn early and be preoccupied with the campaign for the elections.

Among the priority measures the House intends to tackle are the antitrust bill, amendments to the antimoney laundering measure, the reproductive health bill, the freedom of information bill and the open skies bill. The House also has to ratify the bicameral committee report on the budget.

But many lawmakers are apparently preparing for the elections much earlier this time and are too busy to attend the 4 p.m. sessions.

A problem every election

On Monday, only 113 members showed up at the plenary session. On Tuesday, 139 members were present and on Wednesday, 131 were present. The House needs 50 percent of its members plus one—or 145 lawmakers—to be able to hold sessions.

The House has 287 members.

Gonzales, interviewed on Wednesday, acknowledged some lawmakers tended to skip sessions during the election season so they could spend more time in their districts and attend to matters involving their constituents.

“It’s a problem every time elections are near,” he told reporters. “It’s not because they deliberately don’t want to attend but the plenary (is) sacrificed because they are in their provinces.”

Matter of survival

This was a problem in previous Congresses, he said.

He noted a tendency among some first-termers who wanted to protect their bailiwicks and those running for new positions to devote their time to their districts in the run-up to the polls. They would rather be in events where many constituents were present than be in the House plenary.

It was a matter of survival for them, especially if the posts in their bailiwicks were hotly contested, he said.

Gonzales said the situation was compounded by the need to file the certificates of candidacy (COCs) early owing to the automation of the elections, which in effect ushers in an early election period.

“Politics comes earlier now,” he said.

Gonzales solution

The deadline for the filing of COCs for next year’s polls was set for October because the Commission on Elections needed more time to print the ballots to be used for the counting machines.

When the elections were manual, the filing of COCs was held in March, or about two months before the elections.

To mitigate the situation, Gonzales said House leaders had ordered that a roll call be held every session starting this week to send a message to lawmakers that their presence or absence in the plenary was being monitored.

Previously, the House only held a roll call on Monday. If there was a quorum, the roll call was dispensed with within the succeeding days.

Congress resumed its current session on Nov. 5 after a two-week break. It will have another break starting Dec. 22. The sessions will resume on Jan. 21 and end on Feb. 9.

Dismay on Twitter

The official campaign period for those running in the senatorial and party-list polls starts on

Feb. 12. The campaign period for those seeking local posts begins on March 29.

The absence of a quorum this week has earned the ire of some netizens, who read about it on the social networking site Twitter on Wednesday night.

Twitter user @ronnathanielsz said: “What are these people being paid for by us taxpayers!”

User @engr_leiyla said: “This is where your taxes go,” while @edz_ayson’s reaction was simply, “BOOOOO!”

Another user, @limbertqc, did not find the matter surprising. “What else is new?” he tweeted.

Originally posted at 05:02 pm | Thursday, November 15, 2012

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