Philippine Commentary 2004 FPJ vs GMA by Dean Jorge Bocobo
Apropos of the artificial controversy on the senate vote on a committee report on the (genuinely) controversial Manapat of the National Archives, Bocobo blogs, “But in the end, this fact is not disputed — there were nine abstentions and nine AYE votes. What is the result of the vote? Why, elementary my dear Watson, the motion to adopt the report is carried unanimously 9-0 with 9 abstaining.”
The main issue here, as a TODAY newspaper editorial pointed out a few days back, is the moral and political cowardice of the 9 administration senators who abstained. The comment will raise hackles, but the TODAY editorial was right: at least during the impeachment of President Estrada, the pro-Estrada senators had the courage to vote publicly to supress the opening of the 2nd envelope and even dance a jig.
Whether we agree with them or not, our legislators are called upon to take stands on particular issues, and “defend them with courage, happen what may.” In the long term, it is the ability of a politician to uphold a stand on a particular issue, regardless of the short-term consequences, that offers prospects of long-term respect and success.
If a legislator cannot be compelled to vote, nonetheless the legislator should be expected to vote except when there is an ethical problem with the vote. In which case, an abstention is not only permissible, but expected.
Yet the only reason for an absention in the case of this committee vote was moral cowardice and political fence-sitting.
I suppose it would be rational to expect that the logic of Robert’s rules of order would apply to the senate or any legislative body, but it doesn’t, because the legislature is a field of battle from time to time and the tactics used in political skirmishes are the rules that govern that body.
The opposition tried to rush the committee report through; if the accounts of the session are to be believed, submitting the report was not agreed upon previously in caucus, and the senate at large was given precious little time to read a 100 page or more document. Some senators apparently resented this, and justly so considering the time legislators like to take to ponder even the simplest things.
I am not well-versed enough in parliamentary procedure, but the thing to have done was to either stop the committee report with a tie, and then have it returned to the committee for further study, or simply muster the numbers to supress the report. This is what you do when you are a majority faced with an attempted autogulpe by the minority.
Instead, the minority went on the record with 9 votes for the report, while the 9 administration senators present abstained. An abstention, as Boco points out, is basically a vote for the other side, since if you have nothing, the only thing that counts -and can be counted- is the something.
Here enters, however, the problem. If 9 +0 = 9, was 9 enough to carry the report? Logically, it would; except legislative rules aren’t so simple; it is argued by some (or is it most?) that you don’t just have to have the majority, you have to have a majority of fifty percent plus one.
How do you count fifty percent plus one?
Is it fifty percent plus one of those who actually voted? In which case the committee report was approved overwhelmingly.
Or is it fifty percent plus one of those present at the time the question came to a vote? Fifty percent plus one of 18 is 10. In which case the move to approve the committee report was narrowly defeated -narrowly defeated, incidentally, by a ghost army.
Legislative battles are won and lost time and again by the ability of one side to show a more thorough mastery of procedure than the other. My view is that the opposition railroad was derailed by a technicality -in a chamber that thrives on technicalities.
Even if, by abstaining, the administration senators basically didn’t vote, they were present and so were factored into the calculation of the numbers necessary to figure out which side would win.
But that still leaves the moral cowardice of the senators involved; either they beleive in Manapat, in which case they should stand up for him, or they don’t, which means they have to decide if the opposition way follows due process, etc., or they have an open mind and want further study: in either of the latter two cases, they should have sent back the report and called for a more thorough and balanced report.