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The human side

(Article published in the August 8, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

 
         Those looking for what is “human” in the Human Security Act (R.A. No. 9372) will not find it the text of the law.  True there are provisions every now and then enjoining protection of the human person.  For instance, there is the platitude in the Declaration of Policy, that “the exercise of the constitutionally recognized powers of the executive department of the government shall not prejudice respect for human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times.”  Still, the main thrust of the law is what the title says, it is “an act to secure the state…” which evidently is not human.

It will be far more productive to look at the legislative records. These records show how several originating bills meandered through the law-making process until one version became dominant and eventually, with some modifications, was approved by the Senate as Senate Bill No. 2137 and the House of Representatives as House Bill No. 4819 and signed into law by still President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as R.A. N0. 9372. Indicative of what lawyers call “the legislative intent”, the Congressional journals and the record of proceedings show, in addition, how much a product of humans the law is.

 At the Senate where the law originated, there was some initial role switching between Senators Manny Villar and Juan Ponce Enrile.  During the floor deliberations on 22 May 2006, when the bill was up for the period of interpellation, Majority Floor Leader Kiko Pangilinan asked that Senator Villar be recognized.  Rightly so.  It was Senator Villar who was the chair of the Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs that reported out Senate Bill No. 2137 under its Committee Report No. 34.

 But Sen. Villar waltzed away from the task. After moving that a new working draft be made the basis of interpellation, he disclosed that “this working draft is actually a consolidation of the provisions of the original bill under Committee Report No. 34, together with substantial inputs from the bill of Senator Enrile which was just filed early this year…” He then proceeded to manifest that he “was now giving way to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to take the sponsorship…this is in deference to Senator Enrile who is a senior member of the Committee for being the original crafter of the first anti-terrorism bill way back in the Tenth Congress in 1996.”  Despite whatever names the current senators have been calling one another recently, the move exemplifies how genteel the members of that august body try to be.










     

 
         But the heat of debate sometimes disturbs this put-on urbanidad.  On 03 October 2006, Sen. Enrile said, “Mr. President…I have been on the Floor on this bill for so long.  I waited for people to interpellate me and they have not finished their interpellations. My God, if the members of the Chamber could not study the bills that are presented for consideration, then it is their fault…So, I move that we close the period of interpellation on this bill and we go to the period of amendments. I will answer all questions that anyone wants to be clarified on this bill.”

 Senator Pimentel objected.  He presented several reasons, among which, was that “our Rules call for a different period of interpellation as one aspect of the debate, to be followed by its closure, after all have been asked to make their inputs, to be followed by a period of amendments.  There is a distinction between the two, otherwise, the Rules would have said that we can merge the two together.  I do not think that is a very good idea to do so.”

 The records do not show what occurred on the floor.  But, Sen. Pimentel broke away from his trend of thought, and said, “Excuse me, Senator Enrile, I am still talking.”  Then the following exchange of words occurred:

          Sen. Enrile:  “Do not point at me.”

         Sen. Pimentel: “No, I am asking that please…”

         Sen. Enrile: “Do not point at me.”

Sen. Pimentel: “All right. I will withdraw my pointing at Senator Enrile.  But just the same, I am saying please do not interrupt because I still on the Floor.

 The records do not show what rules govern the withdrawal of pointings. Likewise they do not show how Sen. Enrile reacted.  But, Sen. Pimentel was recorded as continuing:

 “That said, Mr. President, I would like to ask our colleagues (sic) not to try to dominate the proceedings here by anger.  We are supposed to be equals here as senators, and therefore, there is no need to intimidate any of us because we are peers, and this is a civilized forum.  Of course, we are free to state our views.”

 Senator Pimentel, I am sure, did not mean to imply that if, unlike the situation between him and Sen. Enrile, the intimidator and the intimidatee are not equals, as when one is a senator and the other is not, or vice versa, then intimidation is alright. 

 At the other end of the spectrum, serious law-making is, sometimes, interjected with light moments.  On 26 July 2006, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago prefaced her interpellation as follows, “I would prefer a short interpellation but it is the nature of this bill…that mandates a very long interpellation.  So, it is highly likely that I shall interpellate until the end of session today, maybe until Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and I may not even leave during the attempt.”

 The prospect must have instilled some kind of terror on Senator Enrile.  He is recorded to have responded, “Mr. President, if that is the case, I ask that we suspend the session for one minute.  I have to go somewhere else. I have to prepare for this lengthy interpellation.”

 The gallery’s reaction must have been worth putting on record.  The transcript of the proceedings indicates, “(Laughter)”.  Session was resumed at 4:40 pm only four minutes after it was suspended. There was no indication where Senator Enrile was during those four minutes.

 The members of the House of Representatives are not to be outshone.  The Journal reports that, just before the third reading of the counterpart bill, House No. 4839, Congressman Zialcita took to the floor.  The Journal says: “Upon recognition by the Chair, Rep. Zialcita asked whether it is possible to start the nominal voting with the letter “Z” for a change since they have always been the last to be called during voting on third reading.”  There were no objections, so eventually “The Chair directed the Secretary General to call the Roll for nominal voting starting with the letter “Z”.”

 It was not only Congressman Zialcita who was elated by the innovation.  Now Senator, then Congressman Zubiri, was also a beneficiary.  At the explanation of their votes, the Journal records, “Rep. Zubiri explained that the only reason why he was giving a short explanation is because for the first time in his eight years’ stint as three-term Congressman, he was allowed to vote first instead of last.”

 As for Congressman Zialcita, the Journal says that “before casting his vote, Rep. Zialcita wondered how the other Members would feel if their surnames started with the letter “Z”.  Thereafter, he voted a critical “Yes”.”

 The Journal does not state what it was that Congressman Zialcita was feeling “critical”.  Neither does it state whether he, after explaining and casting his vote, headed for the same place that may have been visited by Senator Enrile when, as narrated above, the good senator asked for the suspension of the session at 4:36 pm of the 26th of July 2007.

    

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