Discordant notes

The cacophony in the House of Representatives emanating from the current squabble over the post of minority leader strikes a raw nerve and discomfort to people expecting the chamber to settle and buckle down to work after a raucous change of Speaker.

On Monday, the House voted for the retention of Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez as minority leader over two other contenders, namely, Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo of the Liberal Party (LP) and former majority leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

What rings as odd to many is that the plenary allowed Suarez to keep his post despite being a known ally of newly installed Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In fact, Suarez was the first member of the House to sign the petition seeking the election of Arroyo as Speaker.

Earlier, the seven-member left-wing Makabayan bloc had coalesced with Quimbo’s LP group to form a 22-man bloc that sought recognition as the new minority in the chamber through a letter sent to Arroyo. In effect the letter also sought to remove Suarez as minority leader.

Quimbo argued that because the LP and the Makabayan lawmakers were the only ones who either voted against Arroyo or abstained from voting, they are already the duly constituted minority bloc.

On the other hand, the 13-member group led by Fariñas and former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez contended that the only lawmaker in the minority bloc is Rep. Eugene de Vera because he did not participate in voting for Arroyo.

Fariñas said to be part of the duly constituted minority, lawmakers should write a letter to De Vera signifying their intent to do so, which his group already did. Fariñas threatened to go to the Supreme Court to question Suarez’s legitimacy as minority leader.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman also joined the chorus against the retention of Suarez as the putative minority leader, saying the posturing of Suarez’s group that only the position of Speaker was declared vacant during the leadership change is destitute of any firm legal foundation.

Lagman added any change in the leadership of a legislative assembly, like the House of Representatives, necessarily results in changes in the composition of the majority and minority in the chamber.

The continuing internal struggle for the minority post in the House does not augur well for the passage of the priority legislations that President Duterte enumerated in his third State of the Nation Address, including the passage of the TRAIN 2 package, the bill to end contractualization, national land use act and the creation of a department on disaster management and rice tarrification.

Consider too that since Speaker Arroyo is on her last term as a lawmaker, she has barely 10 months at the helm of the House to fulfill her vow to support President Duterte’s legislative agenda.

The House is now akin to an orchestra with several sections playing out of tune and tempo from the stroke of the conductor’s baton.

It is Suarez, himself, who is the cause of all these discordant notes.

Even ordinary people not keenly attuned to politics sense something is certainly off key with Suarez playing the role of minority leader.

Unless the current leadership can restore harmony in the House, the chamber’s credibility will likely diminish further. Arguments to justify Suarez’s stay in his post that ring hollow will only serve to augment the current unflattering public perception of the chamber.

Suarez must either voluntarily moderate his taste for power and perks or the House leadership should muster the political will to decisively address the strife over the post of minority leader which is not a small matter. It is major.

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