Senators clash over move to end interpellations on Maharlika bill
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III moved to suspend his interpellation on the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund bill, but Sen. Mark Villar said it was his right as bill sponsor to object to the motion and instead terminate the period of interpellations.
After hours-long interpellations by the Senate minority bloc that started Monday afternoon and lasted until the wee hours of Tuesday, Pimentel sought to continue raising questions about the contentious measure in the next session.
But Villar, the main proponent of the bill as head of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions, and Currencies, opposed Pimentel’s motion.
“I think we’ve debated this extensively. I’ve answered all the interpellations. And without prejudice to the amendments being proposed, I’d like to object and I’d like to move to close [the period of] interpellations,” he said.
Pimentel also objected to Villar’s motion to end interpellations on the MIF bill.
This prompted the Senate to vote on the pending motions of Villar and Pimentel.
The voice of the two-member Senate minority, composed of Pimentel and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, were overpowered by the force of 11 other lawmakers from the Senate majority who backed Villar in his motion.
Majority of the senators also voted against Pimentel’s appeal to merely suspend his interpellation.
But what’s in the rules?
Before the chamber was divided to vote on the floating motions, a quarrel had first erupted over what the Rules of the Senate had to say about ending the period of interpellations on proposed measures.
“This is the time of the sponsor, considering we are in the period of interpellations… It is the pleasure of the sponsor to no longer entertain questions, and that is his prerogative under our rules,” Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said.
He cited Section 71B of the Senate rules, which states that sponsorship by the committee chairman, or by any member assigned by the panel, is among procedures the chamber may adopt in considering bills and joint resolutions.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri also cited precedents for such a situation, where senators had terminated the period of interpellations on a bill and subjected it to amendments.
“The first motion of the minority leader would be moot and academic because we recognize that it is the right of the sponsor to sit down if he or she wishes to no longer be interpellated. I think it is moot and academic,” he said.
Pimentel asked for the specific rule of the upper chamber that “governs the actual parliamentary situation.”
Zubiri likewise referred to Section 71B of the Rules of the Senate – a justification that still left Pimentel unconvinced.
“It’s a gray matter in the rules, but it is practiced by tradition. And since I am the presiding officer, I am ruling to that effect. He no longer wishes to be interpellated. He has the floor and if he no longer wishes to be interpellated, we cannot force him to answer your questions,” Zubiri said.
Welcome to pitch amendments
Hontiveros also took the podium to back Pimentel’s then-pending motion. She underscored the need to address important questions for a bill of this magnitude.
Villar asserted, however, that he had “covered every square inch” of the MIF bill during the committee hearings, technical working group discussions, and the period of interpellations.
“To be fair to me, I’ve really endeavored to make sure that I answer [the questions] to the best of my ability. Now, I feel it’s my right that I’d like to exercise,” he said.
Villar said senators were welcome to pitch amendments to the MIF bill.
But, for now, he appealed: “Let us move this much-needed legislation forward.”
Earlier, Zubiri bared hopes for the MIF bill – which has been certified as urgent by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – to secure the Senate’s final nod before Congress goes on sine die adjournment on June 2.
He also said the session on Tuesday would be reserved for turno en contra speeches and the period of amendments to the MIF bill.
After that, Zubiri noted, senators would be furnished with a clean copy of the proposed measure with the embedded amendments before they could vote on the MIF bill.