Velasco installed as new Speaker in session outside House
MANILA, Philippines (Updated) — A total of 186 congressmen, or majority of 299 members of the House of Representatives, have elected Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco as the new Speaker in a session described by allies of Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano “illegal.”
The election happened in a session held Monday at the Celebrity Sports Complex in Quezon City despite questions from Cayetano’s camp regarding the legality of the process.
It was Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza, who has been vocal amid the speakership row, who moved to declare the Speaker’s post vacant, the first step to essentially unseat Cayetano.
After his motion was seconded, a nominal voting on the motion resulted in 186 lawmakers voting on the affirmative thus making the Speaker’s post vacant.
This was immediately followed by a number of lawmakers nominating Velasco for the post. This includes Reps. Doy Leachon, Jack Duavit, Kristine Singson-Meehan, and Kiko Benitez, among others.
In his speech following his election, Velasco said that under his leadership, the House will pass laws that are responsive to the needs of Filipinos here and abroad as well as legislation focused jobs, the economy, healthcare, food on the table, peace and order, and clean sustainable energy.
“And most of all, today’s events would ensure that the President’s call for a timely, legal and constitutional approval of the 2021 budget will be complied with,” Velasco said.
The session was presided by Deputy Speaker Conrado Estrella III, with Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo “Rimpy” Bondoc served as majority floor leader.
In the same session, Atty. Hani Sipin was elected as the new secretary-general while Mao Aplasca was elected as sergeant-at-arms.
Questions over legality of process
It is, however, unclear if the move to elect Velasco was valid.
At the beginning of the session, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, citing the Constitution and rules of the lower chamber, pointed out that a majority of House members, constituting a quorum, can resume the session which has been suspended until November 16.
Rodriguez also said that a majority of members in attendance can also hold sessions outside the regularly designated session halls pursuant to the Constitution.
The Cagayan de Oro City lawmaker further said that the rules on mace, which serves as the symbol of authority of the House and shall be displayed at the Speaker’s rostrum when the lower chamber is in session, is “not absolute.”
“There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution or in the House of Representatives or any Supreme Court ruling which rules directly, indirectly, or by inference that any session of the House of Congress are invalid in the absence of the mace at the rostrum during such session,” Rodriguez said.
“After all, the mace is merely a symbol of authority and it cannot take precedence or acquire a higher legal authority over the physical warm bodies and those attending through electronic platforms constituting a majority of each House present,” he added.
But earlier in the day, Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales II said that the Velasco supporters’ gathering is a “rump and illegal session” where the rules of the House will not apply.
Gonzales argued that House session is suspended until November 16 and that there is no authority from the plenary for the lower chamber to reconvene on Monday, October 12.
“Unlike in the Batangas Session, there is no plenary Resolution authorizing to hold session in any other place other than in the Plenary in Batasan, contrary to the Constitution,” Gonzales said, referring to the lower chamber’s session in Batangas following the Taal eruption.
“All the maces, old and official, are currently in the possession and safekeeping of the [Sergeant-at-Arms]. These prove that what they are doing is clearly a rump and illegal session where the Rules of the House will not apply and can not be used,” the House leader added.
Meanwhile, as the session unfolded in Celebrity Sports Complex, Cayetano was also holding his own press conference in the House of Representatives.
Cayetano said the session where Velasco was elected was “fake.”
“Ang Celebrity Sports Club ay hindi naman Kongreso, it creates a disturbing precedent. Ngayon may fake session na ginagawa,” Cayetano said.
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