A View from Row Four: Ruling the Majority
By Kaka J. Bag-ao
Row 4 is usually the last row of seats in a classroom. Its occupants are usually the noisy, unruly and the boisterous members of the class. Row 4, however, has also become synonymous with fun. As a student, from elementary to law school, I have always been a permanent resident of Row 4. This distinction has followed me even into the plenary hall of the House of Representatives where I sit as a neophyte party-list representative of Akbayan. I am literally seated, together with my colleague, Rep. Walden Bello in the last row of the 284-seat plenary hall. Not unlike the row 4 of a high school classroom, the last row of the plenary hall is also one of the places where congressmen and women converge for small talks.
But Row 4 in the House of Representatives is not all fun and gossip. It is also where fellow representatives come to discuss, exchange opinions and informally debate on the issues of the day. Hence, my seat in the back row has its advantage since we get a glimpse of the debates in the sidelines and the inside stories of such debates.
My back row seat provides me with a vantage where I can see the whole session hall with all its comings and goings and the dynamics on the floor especially during debates on controversial pieces of legislation and issues of the day.
As neophyte legislator, one of the challenges that I have faced was getting to know the Rules of the House of Representatives and its processes. As a lawyer, formal rules and processes are of interest to me. As an advocate, the informal rules, process, traditions and relationships within the House are important to me. Mastering both the formal and informal rules and processes of this House is essential if I am to be an effective representative of Akbayan’s constituents.
One of the things that fascinated me immensely during my first year in the House of Representatives is the workings of the majority. Just like myself, my party Akbayan is a neophyte in the majority as we have always been in the opposition. With the election of President Noynoy Aquino, we have found ourselves joining the Majority in the House of Representatives. Again this is something new to us and in fact we are still struggling to act like and look like members of the Majority.
Being members of the opposition for a long time, my party, knows too well that the rule of the Majority may be harsh. We are veterans of many instances where the Majority used the tyranny of numbers to drown and railroad us in the past. We know too well that no amount of strength of arguments or moral ascendancy can block the tyranny of the Majority if they choose to wield it. This is the kind of tyranny that I do not want to be part of as a member of the majority.
From my vantage point in Row 4, I have keenly observed the working of the Majority in every critical and controversial debate and vote in the plenary floor. From my view in the back, I have observed how the majority wielded its strength in numbers and I cannot help but notice the Majority Floor Leader – Rep. Neptali Gonzales II.
Knowing the diversity of the more than 280 members of the House of Representatives and our diversity of personalities, styles and inclinations, I do not envy his role as leader of the Majority and as the facilitator who needs to ensure that the legislative mill will continue to run.
The Majority Floor Leader is elected from the ruling majority party. He/She functions as the spokesperson of the majority party. Being also the concurrent Chairperson of the Committee on Rules, the Majority Floor Leader also is responsible for the calendar of bills, the preparation of the Order of Business and Calendar of Business and all other matters relevant to the Rules of the House . Most importantly, the Majority Floor Leader directs the floor deliberations in the House of Representatives.
The Majority Floor Leader should be one of great experience in the parliamentary proceedings in the House of Representatives, and should be trusted and respected as well by his or her colleagues to be able to facilitate floor deliberations, as every single legislator brings to the session hall their own political and parochial concerns.
As I sit in my in Row 4 and observe the proceedings, I cannot but keenly observe Cong. Boyet going about his job as the Majority Floor Leader. More than his achievements as an elected official, I admire him with how he subtly but ably control the deliberations not because of any secret agenda, but because it is his job to make sure we do our job as legislators during House sessions.
There were certain instances I can relate which I really admire him for, and for which I consider him as a sort of political mentor in my first term as a lawmaker.
In many instances, he personally approaches those who have concerns on parliamentary proceedings. He takes time to talk with the representative who has those concerns, and explains thoroughly the Rules of the House, and he stresses on the importance of certain procedures not only for the orderly conduct of House business, but also for the benefit of all of our constituents. Along with his colleagues in the Committee on Rules, he was actually the person chiefly responsible for House Bill 4146 (which synchronizes the ARMM elections with the regular national elections) to be read on 3rd reading and transmitted to the Senate, and now enacted into law by President Noynoy Aquino.
During the plenary deliberations on the impeachment case filed against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, he studied the facts of the case and the grounds presented. He also studied not only the legal aspects and legality of the impeachment case sponsored by the Committee on Justice, but also took into consideration the grave impact on the public of this particular political exercise.
In the Ethics case filed against my colleague and party mate, Cong. Walden Bello, he was accused of having behaved against parliamentary rules when he called Cong. GMA and her allies certain names during his first privilege speech. During the hearings of the Committee on Ethics, I was awed when Cong. Boyet took leadership and argued like a brilliant lawyer in defending Cong. Walden, saying that the Committee on Ethics had no jurisdiction over what Cong. Walden did in his privilege speech. I was a neophyte, Cong. Walden was only on his second term, and AKBAYAN Partylist only became part of the majority during this 15th Congress, and we thought we would be left on our own. But Cong. Boyet involved himself in Cong. Walden’s case and helped us defend the case against GMA’s allies in Congress.
All these made me realize that as a legislator, knowledge about the laws is not the only way to become brilliant. You also need to have the skills necessary to be able to push for the passage of bills, especially during times when opposition was heavy and a lot of delaying tactics are being done. These skills involve a lot of time talking to House members and making them understand that this bill is not only politically valuable but also concerns the betterment of our constituents. And seeing Cong. Boyet in action every day during my first year, I was inspired to do my job well, and I look forward to the next two regular sessions to learn more about floor work from him.
Observing Cong. Boyet made me realize that wielding the strength of the Majority need not necessarily be tyrannical, the power of the majority can be wielded with grace, reason and intelligence.