COMMENT: Risa Hontiveros standing up for a genuine minority in Congress is laudable

·4 min read
Senator Risa Hontiveros, the only senator from the minority in the Commission on Appointments, said that she does not recognize Senator Alan Peter Cayetano as the minority leader in the said commission. (Photo: Risa Hontiveros/Facebook)
Senator Risa Hontiveros, the only senator from the minority in the Commission on Appointments, said that she does not recognize Senator Alan Peter Cayetano as the minority leader in the said commission. (Photo: Risa Hontiveros/Facebook)

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, one of the only two members of the minority bloc in the Senate, has some words for Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who had been appointed as the minority leader in the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Hindi pwedeng majority tayo o independent tayo o minority tayo sa iba’t ibang panahon para sa iba’t ibang layunin,” Hontiveros said.

(We cannot just be a member of the majority [bloc], or the independent, or the minority in different times for different purposes.)

“It is important for bodies such as these to have clarity as to the positions of each member. This is important for lines of accountability, and important to ensure that we have a genuine minority voice,” the senator added.

For those of us who still value democracy in the legislative branch of the government, and understand the need for an opposing voice in a Congress ruled by a supermajority, Sen. Hontiveros’s action to draw the line on what or who can be considered a legitimate voice for the minority is laudable.

The CA, an independent constitutional body tasked to scrutinize and confirm the nominees for cabinet positions and other appointments made by the president, is considered by many as one of the most powerful agencies in the whole bureaucracy of the Philippine government. A member of this committee could singlehandedly delay, or sometimes deny, confirmation of a nominee.

In fact, under Section 20 of the New Rules of the Commission on Appointments and Rules of the Standing Committees:

“Any member may move for the suspension of action by the Commission on any nomination or appointment favorably recommended by a Standing Committee and the Chairman shall suspend the consideration of said nomination or appointment…”

To understand this better, take former Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas’ confirmation hearing as secretary of the DILG, a position made vacant by the death of former Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Although Roxas was endorsed by the then chairman of the CA Committee on Interior and Local Government, former Sen. Tito Sotto, when his nomination was taken up in the plenary session, former Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago moved to invoke Section 20, saying that she was taking offense over the action of some in the Benigno Aquino III Cabinet to snub a Senate Committee investigation chaired by her.

“I consider myself deeply insulted by the action of Malacañang in deciding collectively among the Cabinet that they would snub my committee hearing … I now want to stand in principle that the Executive Branch of the government cannot effectively prevent the legislative branch of the government from holding any inquiry in aid of legislation, a constitutionally-protected power, simply by agreeing among themselves that they will not show up,” the late senator said.

Although Sen. Santiago eventually withdrew her motion, had she stood her ground, it would’ve effectively delayed Roxas’ confirmation, as there was no provision in the governing rules of the CA to circumnavigate this (at least, not yet).

And so, given all these, it bears noting that it is of utmost importance that those who will represent the voice and positions of the minority in this powerful commission really do come from the minority bloc – and it is clear as day that Alan Peter Cayetano ain’t it.

The fact that the Cayetano siblings – Alan Peter and Pia – chose not to caucus with the minority and instead formed their so-called “independent” bloc is already a testament to where they stand on this particular issue.

Alan Peter could cite a thousand Senate rules to justify his being a minority floor leader in the CA, but the fact remains that he never wanted to be associated with the minority. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Even the other senator in the minority bloc – Minority Leader Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III – believes that Cayetano belongs to the majority bloc, as the records of the CA sent to the Senate would show.

Nakita ko yung communication ng Senate eh so may factual basis si Senator Risa Hontiveros to say na from the communication of the Senate to the CA, siya lamang ang member ng minority from the Senate,” Pimentel reportedly said.

(I saw the communication [between the CA and the] Senate, so there is a factual basis for Senator Risa Hontiveros to say that she’s the only member of the minority in the CA from the Senate.)

There must be no middle ground or a gray area when it comes to representing the voice and the views of the minority. And let the records, and the truth, show that only Sen. Hontiveros is the lone voice of the minority in the CA from the Senate.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for the latest news and updates.

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