Seares: ‘Gagging’ the vice governor: PB rules can do it, did it. Junjun can only protest

News Sense

FEW people had noticed that Cebu Vice Gov. Hilario Davide III cannot file a resolution or ordinance, speak as a legislator on the floor, or exercise the other functions of a regular member of the Provincial Board (PB).

The public didn’t fully realize that until the first 100 days had passed since he and his colleagues in the PB assumed office last July 1. When media asked him about his accomplishments, he could not be dishonest: He has been doing little else except to bang the gavel.

In effect, he has been silenced or gagged, his hand tied to the gavel, but only to pound it on the table where he presides, surely not on someone else’s head.

Here’s the thing: Under the Local Government Code,the Sanggunian (a PB or a city or town council) has the right to adopt or change its rules of procedure. And those rules include the legislative process, parliamentary procedure and any other rules for the conduct of its business.

The new PB - dominated by allies of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia - made sure that the new house rules would silence the vice governor and bind his hands.

As early as July 1, at a caucus before the inaugural session, Davide learned that the PB house rules would be changed. We are told that for the past seven Sangguniang Panlalawigans (from the seventh to the 14th), the vice governor, like in most other local legislatures, had the right to join the discussion and otherwise exercise the functions of a member. This time, starting last July, the presiding officer lost that right “in the name of impartiality.”

Total impartiality of course is fiction. After all, each legislator, not excluding the barangay federation and youth group representatives, got into the Board under the wing of a political party. Even the presiding officer, when he votes in a tie-breaker, does not ignore partisan interest.

Yet impartiality is assured. A Robert’s Rules of Order provision that most parliamentary bodies adopt requires the presiding officer who wishes to join the debate to step down his podium. Moreover, house rules serve as check on any abuse or excess by the presiding officer. Parliamentary rules take care of any fear of unwarranted partiality.

Actually, the tyrant in the session hall is not the presiding officer’s power but the majority’s rule. Evidence at hand is the very provision of the new PB house rules that duct-tapes the vice governor’s mouth. Unlike in other legislatures such as the Cebu City Council, Davide cannot leave the rostrum and speak before the PB.

It is not a display of excess or abuse by the presiding officer but a flexing of the majority’s muscle. Apparently, the majority sees Davide as a threat to administration programs despite his reputation of not being a strongman or a loose cannon and despite the clear superiority in number of those who govern Capitol.

It was not necessary. Presiding officers are rules-bound. When a vice governor or vice mayor does the functions of a member, he temporarily gives up his authority as presiding officer and is subject to house rules just like any other member. And as presiding officer, his main obligation is the unimpeded flow of legislative functions.

The basic rule of inhibition in parliamentary procedure has worked all over the world. Yet nobody can force the PB majority to restore the Robert’s Rules of Order provision on presiding officers no matter how sound, practical and fair it has proved to be for several decades. Robert’s rule is an option but not mandatory under the law.

And maybe the vice governor believes he doesn’t urgently need to speak out on pending business. For the past 100 days, Davide was not heard to complain or, if he did, he didn’t protest too much.

There are platforms, bigger and wider than the PB session hall where the vice governor or anyone else is not gagged. Davide can speak out on any media platform outside the PB. Yet he has not done much talking in any forum during the past 100 days, as he had not when he was governor for six years.


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