Penalize absentees in House, neophyte proposes

By Allison Lopez
Last updated 07:08am (Mla time) 07/26/2007

MANILA, Philippines — No work. No pay.


An opposition congressman on Wednesday proposed that penalties be imposed on legislators who are habitually absent from congressional sessions.


“We have to do this. The trust rating of Congress is -39 percent. We have been paid with taxpayers’ money to attend sessions and yet there are problems of quorum,” said Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez at the National Press Club forum in Manila.


Rodriguez said solons would face deductions from their P35,000 monthly salaries for their absences if the move will be supported by the committee on rules.


“It’s no work, no pay. I was a (law) teacher before. Whenever we were absent they deducted it from our salary. Unless of course, if the excuse is valid,” said Rodriguez, noting that sessions were from Monday to Wednesday only.


Presently, he said only a “shame campaign” through publication of attendance records was being used to discourage absences.


A lack of quorum in the lower chamber has been blamed for the delay in the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2007, a bill deemed urgent by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her recent State of the Nation Address.


A quorum is attained by having 50 percent of the total number of solons, plus one.


So far a total of 224 congressmen have been proclaimed winners with more to come from various party-list groups.


Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, another guest at the forum, agreed with the proposed penalties but claimed the problem of attendance also plagued other countries.


“That’s a worldwide problem. But if it is necessary we will muster a quorum,” said the administration congressman, adding that Speaker Jose de Venecia would initiate reforms to ensure the legislators’ presence in sessions.


Rodriguez will also recommend a second roll call at 8 p.m., or before adjournment, to make sure legislators stayed until the four-hour session is finished.


“It’s because some make the first roll call at 4 p.m., go to the lounge, then go home afterward. So with a second roll call, we can check who really stayed. If you’re not there, you will be deemed absent for one session,” he said.


He noted that there was no quorum during the last three sessions. “If we continue with this we will have low approval rating. It’s our duty to attend the sessions,” he stressed.


To speed up the process of legislation, Rodriguez also proposed that the number of committees be reduced, saying 74 was “too much” for about 242 congressmen.


“The committee on appropriations alone has 185 members — that’s almost everyone. In the US they only have 19 committees for 435 congressmen. We should form more subcommittees instead so the groups would be smaller,” he said.


Lagman, meanwhile, advised neophytes to follow the example of experienced congressmen who were “more punctual.”


When asked if the deductions should be made on the pork barrel instead of from salaries, Rodriguez disagreed and said the funds were “needed by constituents.”


He also took the chance to thank the President for promising to increase the budget of Mindanao in 2008 from 10 percent to 30 percent, especially since the island has more than 20 million people.


“We asked that this be corrected. We are happy that she saw this inequality. Because for the past 10 years, Mindanao has been contributing 20-30 percent to the national wealth,” said Rodriguez.


An improved peace and order situation in Mindanao, the solon added, could be expected because of more livelihood opportunities.


“If there is no peace in Mindanao there will be no more development in the country,” he said.


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