HAVE our congressmen really achieved anything? For years and years, Filipinos have expressed their utterly low regard for congressmen by consistently rating the Congress of the Philippines as the ‘least performing’ government institution in national surveys. In two presidential elections in a row, the people have rejected the chief executive aspirations of former Speakers of the House – the late Monching Mitra in 1992 and Joe de Venecia in 1998. The defeat of these two top politicos of the House of Representatives had been humiliating and backing from the majority party did not help them at all.
Now a former congressman has been smoked out. Dennis Roldan’s arrest for kidnapping expands the growing litany of criminal acts pinned on members and former members of the House of Representatives. We already have a convicted gun runner and a rapist and another one likely to be convicted for money laundering. Before Roldan’s arrest, a congressman was accused of sexual harassment while another ex-congressman was linked to illegal logging.
Yet to many people, it is the congressman who lives only for the pursuit of vested interest who is the truly Most Wanted of all these hoodlums we are asked to address as “your honor.” Worse than rapists, kidnappers, illegal loggers and money launderers, these congressmen have betrayed, abused and crucified our national patrimony. And they get to go scot-free, courtesy of a justice system that interprets the term ‘blind justice’ to mean “look the other way.”
While it is true that any collegial body like congress will always be prone to having bad eggs and deviants – the public cannot help but associate the poorly appreciated lot as “birds of the same feather.” Unlike for instance the Jesuit-run educational institution Ateneo University, the public differentiates the mutated Blue Vultures who have immersed themselves into the national plunder from the true blue Blue Eagles who have remained loyal to their “men for others” moorings. The big difference perhaps lies in the fact that heroes like Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino have been identified with the Ateneo where no real figure of greatness is really associated with our congress – at least so far as this generation is concerned.
To many like me, the Roldan episode is seen as God-sent in that it comes at the heels of renewed attempts for a Constitutional Assembly (Con Ass) by congress. Such a move is suspected to be a ploy of congressmen who want to acquire more power through a change into the parliamentary system. In a parliament, congress becomes both the legislative and the executive branches of government. To me, that is like awarding vampire Count Dracula with the management of the blood bank or giving notorious bank robber Baby Face Nelson the governorship of the Central Bank.
Some cheek and temerity that they have in seeking our permission to allow them more power! This is so much like the black sheep of the family who impregnated the neighbor’s daughter, smashed the family car into a lamppost, failed all his subjects in the very same year in High School he has already repeated, got into a brawl in the school cafeteria – and now asks his father for a 100% increase in his allowance and for a brand new car of his own. Only a nation with suicidal tendencies will agree to give these congressmen what they want.
Under these circumstances, it is pointless to even be discussing the merits of a parliamentary system in comparison with that of the current presidential system. Even God’s own operating system in heaven will not work in the hands of those who are criminally inclined. The Rolls Royce may be one of the finest cars in the world but placed in the hands of a reckless driver, it will still run over the cliff. What we should instead be discussing at length is how we ought to get ourselves out of this exploitative system which breeds and fosters predatory behavior and criminal abuse. Unless we are able to breed new leaders, we will forever be changing systems that will inevitably serve vested interest.
A political solution alone will not suffice to resolve a problem that is socio-economic-political in scope. In fact, the political aspect of the problem stems from socio-economic imbalances in our society. Reform is impossible in a congress that is dominated by scions and lackeys of the callous and exploitative elite who most naturally want only status quo.
The single most crucial reform measure is to effect a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity. Land reform was a step towards that direction. When President Diosdado Macapagal first introduced land reform, guess who offered the stiffest resistance? Congress, who else. The provisions of the 1987 constitution to end political dynasties could not be implemented because congress refuses to make the enabling law that will enforce it.
We are in a fiscal crisis that can lead to an economic meltdown similar to what had happened to Argentina. A decent Congress would have waived their pork barrel as a noble gesture of consideration to country. After the usual display of bravura and phony concern, did we see any real surrender of pork barrel? Fat chance a crocodile will part with meat that is already in its mouth!
Money and power get most of these congressmen elected but I also subscribe to the theory that most of our people elect many of these congressmen for all the wrong reasons. Many of our masses do not know and understand how legislators and legislation (or the lack of it) affect their lives. Nothing best promotes the status quo in this country than the laws that Congress enacts or does not enact. That is because they enact laws that will promote their interests and junk those that threaten these.
It is easiest for our people to relate with affairs happening in the local government level. It is easy to see the impact of programs and projects of governors, mayors, councilors and other local officials. The impact of local government services in education, health and community security are readily seen and immediate. National legislation is too abstract and complicated for the masses.
It is easy for voters to see the relationship of the presidency and local governance; hence presidential elections find more emotional involvement from people. But most of our people regard the congressional and senatorial elections as popularity contests. This is why showbiz personalities have the edge over the more qualified economist, educator or social scientist.
But not quite the same when they are choosing their mayor or governor. Somehow, an Ernie Maceda who managed to have himself elected a senator many times over failed to win as mayor of the City of Manila. A Bong Revilla who managed to win a term as Cavite governor was no sooner ejected from the provincial capitol but made it as number 2 in the last senate race. A low profile Sonny Belmonte enjoyed a landslide victory over popular movie actor Rudy Fernandez the first time Belmonte ran for Quezon City mayor in 2001.
If all these reflect more positive signs of voter maturity in the local level, then it must be encouraged and expanded. It is no wonder then that we have now begun to see marvelous positive changes in Metro Manila, (notably, Quezon City, Marikina, Makati and Las Pinas) and several provinces, cities and municipalities. Truly, one of the great legacies of EDSA and Cory Aquino is the local government code which allowed good governors and mayors to bring their respective LGUs (local government units) to levels much higher than the national LGU performance average. I, for one, believe that we should have a lesser national government and instead transfer more power to the local governments so that there can be more Quezon Citys, Makatis. Las Pinases and Marikinas.
It is no coincidence that whenever the opportunity presents itself, our congressmen want to reduce the powers of local governments that had been provided by the local government code. Rather than cede back their pork barrel to ease the fiscal crisis, some congressmen wanted to reduce the local government allocations from revenue collections. They conveniently overlook the fact that their pork barrel is a usurpation of executive power while the IRAs (internal revenue allocations) of the LGUs are provided by law.
If some psychological association test will be done on the national psyche, I would not be surprised if Filipinos equate “congressmen” with “rogue’s gallery”.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org