Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A day to remember at the House of Representatives: how people power in red “occupied” the House for one brief shining moment at close to midnight of Tuesday, Dec. 4, over nominal voting on Garcia amendment---despite absence of quorum. Integrity of Secretariat count in House votations is now challenged.

Last night, Tuesday, Dec. 04, was a day like no other for this writer, who has been covering our legislative institutions for three decades, beginning with the Batasan Pambansa under President Marcos in 1984. Last night, people power in red “occupied” the House of Representatives at close to midnight, after waiting for the House leaders who failed to show up following the  “suspension” of session supposedly for “a few minutes.”

The uproar that caused this “suspension for a few minutes” came after the nominal voting that Cebu Representative and Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia Sr. had sought on his amendment. Garcia wanted the provision unequivocably inserted in the substitute RH bill that would establish as the beginning of life the moment of conception---not at “implantation” as the pro-RH bloc wanted.

Garcia had earlier also insisted on protecting Catholic tax-payers, who constitute 80 percent of citizens in the country, against being forced to resort to contraceptives whose use would violate the tenets or teachings of their religion. 

Rep. Mitos Magsaysay
Garcia’s amendment on conception was ruled lost in the nominal voting after the secretariat said there were 57 votes for the amendment, vs. 81 against it. Earlier it was announced that 150 House members present assured a quorum (a quorum needs 146 members), but the total number of votes showed there were only 138 members. Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay quickly stood up to question the quorum.

The implication of absence of quorum was that the voting on this specific Garcia amendment would be null and void.

At that juncture, rabid pro-RH Rep. Janet Garin of Iloilo stood up to ask for suspension of session, but across the hall Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates had already also stood up to seek adjournment.  As Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco noted, however, under the House Rules, in the hierarchy of motions allowed to the solons, the motion to adjourn takes clear priority over the motion to raise a point of order, to raise a question of privilege, to declare recess, etc.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, however, decided to rule “suspension for a few minutes” and then quickly left the dais, exiting behind---leaving everything hanging and the solons confused and waiting.

The 400 or so anti-RH folks at the right side of the galleries, hungry and tired from staking out the long session that afternoon, had waited for more than an hour for Tañada to return and resolve his “suspension” of the session. Listless and confused themselves over the presiding chair's ruling, the red crowd refused to leave but remained standing in their places in the galleries, their gaze fixed at the dais.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte was soon seen rushing in and he must have conferred with Tañada and Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzalez Jr. behind the hall; but the interesting thing was that none of them returned to the session hall to resolve the “suspension.”   

It was obvious that they didn’t know how to handle the conflict between the two motions, and its implication on the question of existing quorum and by inference, the integrity of the House voting.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez
 Waiting at the session hall for the House leaders were about two dozen brave representatives from the anti-RH bloc. They included Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who’s doing a fantastic yeoman’s job in tearing into the substitute RH bill (even though Tañada would nearly always rule in favor of the nayes against Rufus' amendments), Batangas' Hermilando Mandanas, Palawan’s Dennis Socrates, Zambales’ Mitos Magsaysay, Cebu’s Cutie del Mar, Navotas’ Toby Tiangco, Karlo Nograles of Davao, Buboy Aquino of Butuan and Iloilo’s Rep. Boboy Syjuco. 

These solons have stuck with the anti-RH bloc despite the clear order now from President Aquino to abandon “conscience vote” and steamroll the substitute RH bill with the LP ruling party in the lead.  These anti-RH solons clearly are risking securing their PDAF and crucial projects in this election year.

The anti-RH solons filled in the bishops, namely, Lipa Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes and Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias, who had sat all afternoon and evening in the gallery following the deliberations, about what was happening and its significance.

As the anti-RH solons explained, it was important that the House leadership resolve the “suspension” or “adjournment” issue. This was because  suspension meant that the House didn’t need to provide the members with  the journal of the previous day’s proceedings;  whereas adjournment meant that the journal had to be produced, or at the very least, that it be read to the body the following day.

The importance of this, as Rodriguez and Tiangco explained, was that it could be determined in the journal, among other things, whether there was indeed a quorum on the nominal voting on Garcia’s amendment---or dinadaya ang mga figures submitted by the Secretariat.

Rep. Dennis Socrates
There was also talk among the anti-RH solons that in the nominal voting the day before (last Monday), on whether to allow Rep. Socrates to speak for 10 minutes on a personal and collective privilege, the vote of staunch anti-RH Rep. Mandanas was wrongly chalked up with the votes against Socrates.

In other words, there is now growing doubts about the integrity of the Secretariat’s handling of the quorum count and the votings---that figures may have been fudged to favor the pro-RH bloc led by the Speaker and key officials. 

This may be the reason Deputy Speaker Tañada had refused to emerge from the back to resolve the “suspension” or “adjournment” issue last night. It could subject yesterday's votings to closer scrutiny of numbers. 

The day before, in fact, some anti-RH solons were heard wondering how the Secretariat could determine accurately the vote results through the thumbs-up or thumbs-down signals from the solons, even from the far distance where the Secretariat sat near the dais. 

Unlike in other parliaments abroad, our  284-member House has not resorted to electronic voting, but instead trusts the Secretariat's headcount or worse, the "thumb" count of the solons.

As the confusion continued, majority of the red-clad anti-RH and pro-Life crowds who had filled the two layers of the right side gallery all afternoon, had refused to leave. Tired and hungry from an all evening watch of the proceedings, they were ready to camp in the gallery all night, in contrast to the pro-RH crowd in purple attire across the cavernous hall, which had already gone home. 

The red-clad anti-RH folks remained standing, watching what was going to happen.   As one of them quipped, “The House is now in suspended  animation.” Indeed.

After an hour Rufus Rodriguez reported that Belmonte and Tañada had apparently left the premises, leaving word that the session would be suspended until 4 pm. the following day. 

At that point now close to midnight, a scene totally unrehearsed and unpredicted took place. 

The red-attired crowd assembled closer together, under the shadow of the gigantic Philippine flag in the session hall and they asked Archbishop Arguelles, who had remained with them all afternoon and evening, to lead them in prayers for the enlightenment of the legislators. 

Arguelles dedicated the crowd and the anti-RH solons and their cause to the protection of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, whose feast will be celebrated this Saturday, Dec. 8.  

Then the anti-RH crowd began singing the “Ama Namin” and the “Hail Mary” loudly, a lot of them choked with emotion.   

I overheard two ladies in red whispering. "Doesn't this sense of persecution remind you of the early Christians?" said one. No, replied the other tersely, "Early early Christian."

The blue barong-clad House pages,  who had been sitting during the long wait for Tañada or anyone of the House leaders, were caught off-guard by the unprecedented happening of prayer by the gallery crowd. When the hymns started some pages rose and stood still.  

Fr. Melvin Castro
Then, quite suddenly a black-cassocked priest in the crowd, Fr. Melvin Castro, exclaimed, “RH Bill, ibasura.” The crowds began chanting it as they filed out of the session hall and into the main lobby, where they met other red-clad groups descending from the second gallery. The big crowd filled the lobby and  repeatedly chanted, "RH bill ibasura, RH bill ibasura," as they filed out of the House. 

Outside a handful of media cameras caught the historic "occupation" of the Batasan and interviewed Archbishop Arguelles, who told media that God was with the group. 

That long day's journey into night and early morning was indeed a day to remember.  

For comments/reactions, please email:


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Joseph, for the moment, intense prayer power tayong lahat. Let's pray that the pro-RH solons will be enlightened about some truly objectionable provisions of the "substitute RH bill," and that they won't be blinded by the PDAF Malacanang is dangling to them. I will feature some of these provisions in my follow up blog this Friday. These came out only in yesterday's (wednesday) amendment period.

    2. Our prayers are with anti-RH bill advocates!

  2. Great recap and very touching as we were there and didn't think anyone was paying attention, thank you! We are being sold for 30 pieces of PDAF.

  3. Just one correction: Rep. Garin is pro-RH, not pro-life.



    1. Ano ang ibig mong sabihon ng "mga pajerong obispo"?
      Tumatanggap ba sila ng PDAF gaya ng mga senatong at tongressmen natin ?

  5. Yes, Tita Bel! Thanks for recording that long, blessed day. Felt very close indeed to the "early Christians" on that "one, brief shining moment" at the Coliseum (the lions left us; we were not eaten alive). Words from Psalm 2 were so appropriate that Tuesday evening: Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes hereditatem tuam...

    1. Thanks for standing up as Christians in that blessed moment. I hope that the leadership of Noynoy would not be a shame and scandal to his saintly parents especially Ninoy who said that a Filipino is worth dying for. No selfish interest here please! NO TO RH bill!

  6. Thanks to my fellow Filipinos who stood firm for the faith! It's the Year of Faith! Faith can move moountains. Faith gives birth to charity: love for the unborn.

  7. God is with us indeed! Emmanuel!

  8. God is with us indeed! Emmanuel!

  9. Its so sad to learn that PNOY has not chosen life for the unborn. What's so ironic was her mother stood up as hope for the hopeless.

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