May a caucus overturn a decision of a committee to invite or subpoena a person? Definitely not! In fact, even asking a caucus to review a decision of a committee is virtually unheard of in a legislature—except the Philippine Senate, perhaps.
Okay, okay, Senate President Franklin Magtunao Drilon (FMD) didn’t push through with his earlier proposal that a Senate caucus decide if a subpoena should be issued to the so-called Pork Barrel Queen Janet Lim Napoles as desired by the Senate Blue-Ribbon committee.
However, the very idea of submitting this issue to a caucus is already repulsive to the committee system. FMD should thank his lucky stars that Sen. TG Guingona, chair of the Blue Ribbon, wasn’t fully grounded on the system or else he would have immediately resigned, or threatened to, when FMD refused to sign the subpoena for Napoles.
A committee is always supreme in its own sphere. In fact, a Senate President shouldn’t even be giving an opinion on a matter pending before a committee lest it be interpreted as pressuring that panel to act as he wished it would. Non-members’s ideas may weigh in only when a committee report reaches the floor. So far, FMD hasn’t shown full respect for the authority of a committee to act on matters referred to it.
As I had stated in my previous column, FMD revived a bill archived by the Senate Committee on Local Government headed by Sen. Bongbong Marcos. That committee rejected a House bill resetting the election at the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, after a series of public hearings in the ARMM where majority of regional leaders opposed it. The archiving of the bill was a rebuff of Malacanang that had pushed to synchronize the regional election with the midterm election. Well, FMD came to the rescue of Malacanang and the rest is history. Like Guingona, Marcos didn’t resign from his post despite the slap on his committee.
(Then Sen. BS Aquino, believe it or not, had a better view on the prerogatives of a committee chairman. When then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile sided with the reservations of Sen. Joker Arroyo on the legality of a bill that BS Aquino was then sponsoring, Aquino threatened to resign not only from the committee but from the majority.
He had his way at the Senate, but not at the Supreme Court that later declared as unconstitutional the bill he had sponsored.)
Going back to the Napoles subpoena, FMD tried to save face by eventually signing it even before a Senate caucus could discuss the issue. We can only make a guess on what would have happened had caucus pushed through. Had the caucus agreed on the issuance of a subpoena, that would have been tantamount to a repudiation of FMD’s leadership. Had it sided with him, that would have been a death knell for the committee system. Either way, it was a loss-loss situation for the Senate.
Unfortunately for the Senate, it’s not only the committee system that is suffering under the watch of FMD. The very independence of the chamber is now under question. It’s sad, revolting even, that this independence is waning because of a mindless support for the Pork Barrel King, President BS Aquino. This unthinking support has caused the Senate to lose its inherent power of the purse. It sees nothing wrong when an executive goes on a savings spree, and then uses the savings any way it wants to. It sees nothing wrong when the executive triples the amount for pork barrel, as long as it partakes of the spoils.
FMD (again, this stands for Franklin Magtunao Drilon, not Foot and Mouth Disease) had many good ideas. He had wanted to regionalize the national prison and privatize the National Bilibid Prisons. He also wanted to privatize the Welfareville that has been taken over by informal settlers.
He had wanted officers of the Philippine Coast Guard to face the Commission on Appointments, and questioned why they were considered civilians when they were sporting military ranks. His use of the Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce as contractors for his school-building project has resulted in great savings for the government. Yet, somewhere along the way, he was also showing another face, that of one who would walk the extra mile to serve Malacanang even if means clipping the wings of the very chamber that he heads.