A tale of two countries


It is so depressingly familiar: legislators accused, sometimes convicted, of drug use (or trafficking), rape and murder, money laundering, and, to a man, theft of the people’s money.

That is in Brazil, as The New Times recounts the other day.

But the story could very well be about the Philippines. Our problem, however, is not so much the protection extended by Congress to its members as the readiness of people to elect politicians again and again despite their less-than-admirable record.

Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson, from his perch as congressman, has reclaimed the post he now occupies.

Chavit is facing charges for misusing—legalspeak for stealing—P26 million of his province’s share of the tobacco excise tax.

But the man need not worry. The rich and powerful in this country, if they are ever convicted don’t stay convicted.

Former Congressman Jose Villarosa was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his political rival’s two sons. In March 2008, however, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and ordered his release.

It didn’t hurt that his wife, Amelita, was Deputy Speaker of the House at the time. She was also a close ally of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has since been arrested for corruption and plunder.

The CA, through Associate Justice Noel Tijam, states—pontificates is the appropriate word—that the acquittal of Villarosa and his co-accused “does not suggest that they are innocent, only that their guilt has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

Oh, the CA came up with that decision in response to a petition made by Solicitor-General Antonio Nachura, an Arroyo appointee,

Congressman Ronald Singson, son of Chavit, was convicted of drug possession by a Hong Kong court. He was imprisoned for 18 months in that former British Crown Colony, but he was returned to his old post by his adoring constituents last election.

According to The New York Times, the people of Brazil are so fed up with their legislators that spontaneous rallies are breaking out all over the country. It quotes a political scientist as saying that Congress is the most hated institution in Brazil because of its “tradition of preventing its own members convicted of crimes from ever going to jail.”

There are no such rallies in the Philippines, or even a sense of outrage among the people, only the fulmination of a few.

Former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos, who served years in the national penitentiary for statutory rape, was repudiated in the last elections. So were husband and wife James and Anne Gordon of Olongapo City and Zambales, whose mismanagement and corruption left the city in debt for P5 billion.

These are exceptions to the rule though.

A congressmen or any local official for that matter retains power depending on how good he is at dispensing patronage and, if that fails, at intimidating his constituents.

In 1963, Brazilian Senator Arnon de Mello fatally shot a colleague on the Senate floor, but he escaped imprisonment because the killing was considered an accident. He was aiming at another senator.

No Filipino senator has ever killed another, but in the matter of siphoning off public funds, they are as guilty as their House counterparts. In fact, they can teach them a trick or two in that department.

All 24 senators are entitled to P200 million pork barrel every year. However, a recent report by the Commission on Audit shows that one senator got as much as P1.189 billion in pork barrel allocation from 2009 to 2012.

It’s exactly the amount the government spent recently to purchase Glock pistols for half of the country’s 150,00 policemen and women, who do not have government-issue side arms. And they have to wait for years for that.

It’s called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), but one is hard-pressed identifying development projects the senators have undertaken unless you’re talking about flashy cars of which they are fond, frequent travels to America and Europe, exclusive schools for their children here and abroad, and, yeah, a condominium unit in New York.

The senators are elected at large, so obviously they cannot intimidate the whole country and vote buying just isn’t practical, unless you can buy an entire province, which was the case with Maguindanao under Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his family. But that is another story.

So the senators resort instead to charm offensive. They bombard the airwaves—TV and radio—with ads to ensure that voters remember them on election day. And the national electorate, like adolescent girls shrieking over a rock star, entrust the government to the men and women with good looks.

It doesn’t matter whether the legislators resort to intimidation or rely on the ignorance of voters. We all get shortchanged either way.


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1 Comment

  1. It’s a well said piece on the harsh reality prevailing in this country. But is there a way out of this situation? I’m convinced there is. Brazilians are doing it. Perhaps, we would soon follow.