Dateline Manila: Should we abolish Congress? PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 27 June 2014 11:32

BY Sammy Santos


It’s business as usual in the Philippine Senate despite the headline-hugging arrests and detention of Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, and soon, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.

“Work at the Senate will continue,” declared Senate President Frank Drilon in a radio interview right after the arrests. “There is no problem. The quorum in the Senate is not a problem.”

The Senate leadership has maintained that despite the Janet Napoles pork barrel brouhaha, Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives— will continue to function and fulfill its constitutional mandate to make laws.

Despite the claim of the opposition, the Senate majority asserted that there was no partisan politics involved in the pork barrel controversy as it was merely a matter of implementing the country’s anti-graft laws.

The scandal involved allegations that hundreds of millions of pesos worth of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were pocketed by certain legislators and executive officials in conspiracy with Napoles’ bogus non-government organizations (NGOs). It was simply a matter of upholding the rule of law in an impartial and non-partisan manner.

That is why we disagreed with the opinion of Philippine Daily Inquirer in-house political analyst Amando Doronila who said this week that the arrests of Revilla and Estrada has “further emasculated” the Senate.

Said Doronila: “The senators’ fall from grace with the law underscores the depth into which the Senate’s power has plunged during the past four years of President Aquino’s administration….”

“Their arrest provided an ironic turn in Philippine politics, as the crackdown on official corruption was carried out by an administration that came to office on an anti-corruption platform,’ Doronila noted. “In this crackdown, an important political institution in the tripartite system of checks and balances, the Senate, appears to have suffered damage, as it is now reeling under the shock of the punch thrown by the executive department, which is demonstrating the seriousness of its “daang matuwid” (straight path) campaign to eradicate official corruption.”

We fail to understand how the implementation of our anti-graft laws has become the “emasculation of the Senate,” as claimed by Doronila since the Senate leadership has thrown its support behind President Aquino’s anti-corruption campaign from the start of his administration.

We think Doronila got his analysis all mixed up. The pursuit of the truth and the execution of the legal process, such as the filing of plunder cases against the suspects, is not a political “punch thrown by the executive.”

On the contrary, it is consistent with the mandate of senators who campaigned and won in the 2013 midterm elections under the platform of President Aquino’s reform agenda, especially against official corruption. Remember the Team Pnoy senatorial team that almost swept the last elections; most of the winning candidates vowed to push for the President’s reform agenda as a campaign pledge.

While we acknowledge the public outrage over the pork barrel, we assert that the filing of graft cases against senators has not diminished the power of the Senate. The arrest of the two senators is but part of a legal process supported by the Senate. The alleged criminal acts that are at the center of the pork barrel scam have been committed by individuals, not by the Senate as an institution.

The Senate’s capacity to perform as the highest lawmaking body of our people has not been affected by this scandal – as wholly proven by its current legislative performance.

As early as December last year, Drilon already made it clear that the Senate would not stand in the way of the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) investigation of the scam and the filing of criminal charges by the Office of the Ombudsman against those involved.

The Senate leadership acknowledged the people’s outrage not only over the huge amounts of public funds allegedly stolen but also the thought that this alleged plunder of congressional funds intended to help the poorest of the poor has been going on for some time now with the perpetrators, mostly prominent politicians, remaining unpunished.

But Drilon likened the scandal to a cleansing process, given the set of drastic reforms that has been set in motion in Congress, including the unconditional abolition of the pork barrel itself.

While the scandal has given Congress a severe black eye, Drilon was confident that once an impartial justice system takes its course by punishing the guilty and clearing the innocent, Congress will eventually emerge stronger and regain the public’s trust.

“The pork barrel controversy and the public outrage that came with it serve as a cleansing process, not only of Congress, but of our entire political system. I am certain that when the guilty are expelled and imprisoned and the innocent, cleared; Congress as an institution will be stronger than before. We will uncover the truth behind this controversy, regardless of the political affiliation of those involved,” he said.

In May, when the so-called “Napolists” hit the headlines, political commentators went to town calling for the abolition of the Senate. Among them was PDI letter writer Stephen Monsanto who suggested that “the country would be better off with a Congress put to rest for a while.”

We had to remind Monsanto that suggestions to abolish the legislature was going overboard and could be extremely dangerous. As Senator Serge Osmena III put it, “we should not burn down the house to kill a rat.”

We must remember that the misuse of pork barrel funds was committed by individuals; never has it been alleged as an act of Congress. Given this, we must punish individuals and not the institution.

To insinuate that Congress should be abolished is oversimplifying the problem. To say that Congress is guilty merely because the names of most of its members are in the so-called “Napolist” shows a lack of appreciation of our democratic processes.

Moreover, it cannot be denied that reforms to cleanse the government of corruption are underway. In the Senate, this is reflected in the abolition of the pork barrel fund, the institution of more transparent measures in the annual budgetary process, and the current legislative efforts to add more teeth to our anti-graft and corruption policies.

Congress does not only make laws, equally important is its role as one of the three independent branches of government that provide for a system of check and balance in our democratic state.

We advised those calling for the abolition of Congress to look at the actual applications of that suggestion. History and recent developments teach us that removing a country’s parliamentary component invites totalitarian disasters. Take the Philippine Congress’ abolition thatled to 20 dark years of nightmarish authoritarian rule under President Ferdinand Marcos.

The recent declaration of military rule in Thailand and Egypt has shown us where nations go when they belittle political institutions and submit to the temptations of strong-arm tactics and mob rule.

Besides, our democratic framework provides us with a potent weapon against corruption—we can always vote those who we think misused public funds out of office. Even if the courts take a long time to decide on these pork barrel cases, political reality dictates that the electorate will eventually vote those who stole public funds out of office in the coming 2016 elections.

That is why we have elections. We are confident that the Filipino voter will be able to tell the difference between those who pocketed pork barrel and those who used the funds properly.  All they have to do is to look into the public records of how their political leaders allocated their pork barrel funds through the years.

In contrast, demagogic calls to bring down our means of representation and our democratic institutions will lead us only to a greater nightmare of anarchic disorder.

(For disclosure purposes, the writer works as the print media director of the Philippine Senate.)