Recent political developments remind me of martial law and the Batasan (1984-1986) which I covered for the now defunct Veritas Newsmagazine. (The only other Batasan reporters still active in journalism today are Mr & Ms’s Joey Nolasco, now with Inquirer; Times Journal’s Jess Diaz, now with The Star; and Business Day’s Marites Danguilan-Vitug, now with Newsbreak and Rappler.)
Martial law is no longer here and President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino The Third (The Last?) has expressed disdain for it. However, he thinks and acts like a despot. His creation and use of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) without any enabling law from Congress is reminiscent of the lawmaking power of President Ferdinand Marcos under Amendment 6 of the 1973 Constitution.
Marcos already had full control of the Batasan but he didn’t rely on it completely for his legislative program. He didn’t have to because he enjoyed parallel powers under Amendment 6. The current Malacañang caretaker obviously believes he also has such powers too. It’s a good thing we have a Supreme Court that tried to bring him down to earth, that he could use public funds only in accordance with the budget approved by Congress and that he couldn’t transfer funds to other “borders.”
Bring him down to earth did I say? Oops, I take that back. After the Supreme Court had ruled against the DAP, BS Aquino became more obdurate in believing that he could do these unconstitutional acts. This makes him a president with dictatorial tendencies hiding under the cloak of good faith and democracy. Like most dictators, he disdains criticisms. He takes any criticism, even if valid, as an insult and a challenge to his person and authority.
And the 16th Congress? It has lost its independence, like the Batasan of martial law days that meekly obeyed all orders from Malacañang. Many congressmen even find fault in those who want Congress to protect its inherent rights and powers, especially the Power of the Purse. They’re like the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) members of the Batasan who considered as enemies those calling for the legislature’s greater power and independence.
Oh, the opposition members of the Batasan may feel offended by the comparison. I won’t blame them. After all, they helped provide the spark that led to EDSA 1. Some 61 of them were elected to the Batasan but only 60 took their oath as legislators. Cesar Climaco of Zamboanga City refused, saying a Batasan seat was useless. Two died while in office – a certain Legaspi (I forgot his first name) of Aklan, and Hilario de Pedro Jr. of South Cotabato who died after signing the impeachment complaint against Marcos.
The Batasan opposition was a fighting lot. Among them were Ramon V. Mitra, Marcelo Fernan, Cecilia Munoz Palma, Jose B. Laurel Jr., Eva Estrada Kalaw, Rolly Andaya, Roning Mercado, Ciriaco Alfelor Jr., and Edmundo Cea who had gone on to the Great Beyond. The late Raffy Recto, son of Claro M. Recto and father of Senator Ralph, also enthralled spectators with his masterful questioning of then Energy Minister Geronimo Velasco on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. He’s the only to get a standing ovation after a Question Hour.
Nanny Perez also stood out for his exposes on the projects of the Ministry of Human Settlements and questions to Human Settlements Deputy Minister Jolly Benitez. Until now, I still relish his expose on the “Kubeta Village” in Cavite developed by Benitez. Unfortunately, Perez’s personality was better suited for a fiscalizer. He didn’t fare as well when he was with the administration. The same could be said of Homobono Adaza, who shone brightest in defending the impeachment complaint against Marcos. After EDSA 1, he was offered a post in the Supreme Court but declined. He didn’t feel comfortable with the Cory administration and had been with almost every opposition group since.
Also standouts were Bert Romulo, Nene Pimentel, Oscar Santos, Tony Cuenco, Vic Ziga, Luis Villafuerte, Art Defensor, Mel Lopez, Dodo Cagas, Orly Mercado and Lito Atienza, among others. They could debate with the best from the KBL although they always lost the votes because of what they called “tyranny of numbers.” Some KBL members ridiculed the opposition for always standing up on any issue, to which Orly Mercado retorted: “Tayo nga kami ng tayo pero kayo, pa-opo-opo lamang!”
I don’t expect the opposition of the 16th Congress to be at par with those of the Batasan. Hopefully, some members of the majority might later become more independent of Malacañang like a number of Batasan members. Blas Ople, Nonoy Garcia, Joe Zubiri, Zosimo Paredes, Narciso Monfort, Edel Amante and, later Juan Ponce Enrile, are among the first names that come to mind.