Tucked somewhere northeast of Quezon City—the largest city in terms of land area and population in Metro Manila—is an outwardly unfamiliar yet enormous complex where matters of national significance and international relevance are brewed and served: The House of Representatives of the Philippines.
But, how familiar are we with this institution? Here are some quick facts about the Philippine House of Representatives.
The Philippine Legislative Chambers
- The Congress of the Philippines is a bicameral legislative body in charge of creating laws and performing such other functions to ensure the checks and balances within its co-equal branches of government.
- As provided by the Philippine Constitution, the Philippine legislature should have a Senate (upper chamber) and a House of Representatives (lower chamber).
- The House of Representatives of the Philippines comes in many names for the Filipino people. It is called the Lower House, Camara de Representantes, Kamara, Kapulungan ng mga Kinatawan ng Pilipinas and oftentimes, it is simply referred to as Congress. But the House of Representatives is just one component of the Congress of the Philippines, the other being the Senate.
The House of Representatives, along with the Senate, was abolished when the Philippines was placed under martial law. It was replaced with a unicameral Congress known as Batasang Pambansa by virtue of a new Constitution supported by the Marcos regime.
- Members of that national assembly, which numbered at 200 during that time, served a term of six years.
- At present, each member of the House of Representatives can serve for three consecutive terms with each term running for three years.
When the Marcos dictatorship was toppled, the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate, were restored through the 1987 Constitution.
The new constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall be composed of not more that 250 Members who are elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities and Metro Manila area in accordance with the number of inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio and those, as provided by law, elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations.
- The House of Representatives of the Philippines is patterned after that of the United States.
Members of Congress
The House of Representatives is headed by the Speaker, who is the third in line in the presidential line of succession after the Vice-President and the Senate President. Deputy speakers are also elected within the House to perform the Speaker’s role in his or her absence.
The Secretary General and the Sergeant-at-Arms are also the key officials of the House.
- The secretary general, together with the secretariat, is the chief enforcer of the orders and decisions of the House. Other duties include keeping the Journal of each session as well as taking notes of all questions of order, among others within the House of Representatives.
- The Sergeant-at-Arms’ primary responsibility is ensuring and maintaining order in the chamber. Both the Secretary General and the Sergeant-at-Arms are elected by a majority vote of the members of the House.
- Aside from the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, the House of Representatives also elects the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader. The Majority leader leads the party or the coalition with the greatest number of members while the minority leader heads the group with fewer members.
- While they may be ordinarily called congressmen or congresswomen, the Members of the House of Representatives are officially styled as representative, and this term is used in all proceedings in the lower chamber.
- At present, 61 Standing Committees and 16 Special Committees are operating in the lower house of the Philippine Congress. The different committees have exclusive and shared jurisdiction over the different issues and legislative measures being referred to them by the House.
- Historically, the House of Representatives is supportive of any sitting President.
- Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was President of the Philippines from 2001 to 2010, is the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives and the first ex-president in the history of the country to be elected as the highest official of the lower chamber of the Philippine Congress.
As an institution established by the Constitution, the House of Representatives plays a vital role in the development of the nation, especially in the light of ensuring checks and balances in the government.
Aside from passing legislation that would benefit their respective constituents, the House ensures that the other branches of the government, like the executive is also doing well in exercising their duties and in performing the intention of the laws that Congress has legislated.
- All money bills must originate from the House of Representatives before it can be forwarded for the President’s signature. Money bills refer to proposed laws that concerns taxation as well as government spending (i.e. annual general appropriations bill). The Senate may still propose or concur with amendments on these bills.
- The House of Representatives has the power to impeach certain officials. Based on Article XI, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, the President, Vice-President, Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Constitutional Commissions (Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, and Commission on Audit), and the Ombudsman of the Philippines may be subjected to impeachment.
- After being formally accused in the House of Representatives, the official in question is tried in the Senate.
The House of Representatives dubs itself as the "House of the People". Being the closest link between the grassroots of the country and the national government, it recognizes the vital role of the ordinary people in the law-making process and as such encourages all citizens to participate by getting in touch with their respective representatives and "let them know what you think and how you feel about existing and proposed laws, or your suggestions for new laws needed to make our lives and our society better."
For this purpose, anyone interested can contact their representatives through their local numbers here.
For those who wish to visit, the House of Representatives is located within the Batasang Pambansa Complex, IBP Rd., Batasan Hills, Quezon City.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
William from N on March 11, 2020: