Ombudsman can’t expel absent solons–Belmonte
HOUSE leaders on Tuesday said the Ombudsman could not eject a member of Congress—like Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao or Negros Occidental Rep. Jules Ledesma—for chronic absenteeism and tardiness.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the Ombudsman had no power to take action against erring House members. He said the alternative was for House leaders to persuade the lawmakers to attend the sessions.
“Congress leaders can only do their best to ensure that they have a quorum every session day,” said Belmonte.
At least 27 civil society groups had asked Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to investigate the inveterate absentees among the lawmakers who, they said, were responsible for holding back the passage of urgent legislation.
Last year, only 65—less than one quarter of the 290 House membership—attended all 34 session days in 2014. Pacquiao was physically present on only four session days, while Ledesma attended seven.
Instead of seeking the Ombudsman’s help, 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III suggested the civil society groups focus their resources on spotlighting the chronic absentees during the campaign season.
“The only way to punish them is to reject them during the elections,” said Bello. Despite their bad attendance records, their constituents continue to vote them into office—Pacquiao is on his second straight term, while Ledesma is on his third straight term.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the House leadership should do more than use moral suasion to prod Congress members to fill the session hall.
“Even under its own rules, the House is empowered to discipline truant members, such as by taking away their committee memberships, slapping them with suspensions. All it takes is political will, but leniency is the established tradition,” Tinio said.
Ledesma is a member of 12 House committees and is vice chair of the powerful ways and means panel. Pacquiao is a member of 15 committees, including two of which he is vice chair: Aquaculture and fisheries, and overseas workers affairs.
Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao admitted that absenteeism in the House was a major source of frustration among its leadership.
“But members of Congress and other elected officials do things differently from other government workers. They work nearly 24/7. In fact, a major part of a congressman’s time is devoted to his district,” said Aggabao.
He said it should be the electorate and not the Ombudsman that would hold elected officials accountable for their performance.
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