Can Congress regain its power and dignity?


“Congressional power, like chastity, is never lost, is rarely taken by force, and is almost always given away.”
– David B. Frohnmayer, “The Separation of Powers: the vitality of a constitutional idea”

WHEN the House of Representatives resumes today its inquiry into the Mamasapano incident, it does well to consider this profound insight of Professor Frohnmayer, a former US university president and law dean. It is wrong for House members and the public to presume that President Aquino has taken away from the 16th Congress—from both the House and the Senate—its essential power of oversight and control over the acts of the Executive.

In the hands of the House now lies all hope that the nation will get to fully know what happened in Mamasapano last January 25, why it happened, and who were responsible. The Senate is finished with its inquiry and has submitted its report. The Philippine National Police (PNP) through its Board of Inquiry has also concluded its own inquiry and submitted its findings. The Human Rights Commission rushed its token inquiry, for the foolish purpose of dispelling all impressions that what happened in Mamasapano was a massacre. Even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has completed its own inquiry and submitted its findings. The Department of Justice which boasted about conducting its own inquiry, has gone silent about the project, discouraged by the thought of Secretary Leila de Lima being laughed at one more time.

Thus, the House inquiry has become our last watering hole in the desert – the last stop where our thirst for truth, justice and accountability can be quenched.

I say to the committees conducting the inquiry that in their hands, either doors will close and secrets will be covered up or the full story of Mamasapano will finally be told.

Three questions to ask
I think the inquiry will render the nation an inestimable service if it gets clear answers to three questions that continue to bug the public and yours truly. This is different and more modest than the 20 questions which some lawmakers have urged President Aquino to answer.

My three questions are:
First, was there, in fact, an order to the AFP troops present at the scene for them to “stand down” and desist from providing rescue and assistance to the beleaguered SAF commandos?

This is different from asking Aquino whether he gave such an order (a question which cannot be posed because Speaker Belmonte ruled out any questioning of the President).

The sensible alternative is to pose the question to the AFP commanders and officers – to ask them squarely whether any of them received at the time such an order, and if so from whom. Whether the answer is yes or no, it will clarify to the public why the military did not act to support the SAF. So at least this mystery will be laid to rest.

Second, when the GRP-MILF peace agreement was negotiated, why did the Aquino government talk only with the MILF and its representatives? Why were other Muslim groups ruled out?

Why was Malaysia present in the negotiations? What was its role and interest in the talks?

Why was there no representative from the military in the Philippine panel?

Third, since President Aquino has accepted full responsibility for the Mamasapano incident, what does this mean or encompass?

Aquino may not be present at the inquiry today, but the House should not shy away from providing a definition of responsibility. It should say whether responsibility is the same as accountability.

Should Aquino’s acceptance of responsibility be treated as a confession? Or as a mere sound bite?

Scrubbing the image of Congress
If the House courageously pursues its inquiry to a satisfactory conclusion and then writes a cogent report, it could set the stage for earnest and serious deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Additionally, the House can help its sister chamber by jump-starting the scrubbing of the image and public standing of Congress.

Neither the House nor the Senate should forget that they enjoy the lowest levels of trust among the country’s key political institutions. In the 2014 Trust Index surveys, the Senate enjoyed the lowest level of trust, lower than the House and the President.

In the March Pulse Asia Survey, Speaker Belmonte had the lowest approval rating among the country’s top five officials (Aquino, Binay, Drilon, Belmonte, chief justice Sereno).

Amazingly, the public’s low regard for Congress is almost completely driven by the relationship between the President and Congress. It sinks to its lowest when the President is most dominating of relations. It rises a little when Congress shows independence and holds Malacañang to account.

Historically, esteem for the Senate was never higher than at the time when the chamber voted to reject the proposed military bases treaty with the US in 1991 during the time of President Cory Aquino.

Esteem was never lower than at this time – the era of Benigno BS Aquino 3rd — when the public is incensed by the pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and when senators and congressmen have been indicted for the plunder of public funds.

Likewise, the perception of congressional servility to Aquino – in crushing all moves to impeach him, and in railroading PNoy’s initiative to impeach former chief justice Renato Corona — has taken a heavy toll on congressional dignity and prestige.

The first branch of government
Yet, as professor Frohnmayer suggests, this shabby record does not mean a permanent loss of chastity.

Congress can always work to recapture its power and dignity, because the nation does not have a ready substitute.

The power is always there, because Congress is truly the first branch of government – the most representative of the nation’s political institutions.

Thanks largely to misguided leadership and clueless members, our legislature has consistently looked irresponsible, and too easily bought by the executive.

Like a woman desirous to guard her honor, Congress can still say no. It just has not said it often enough to Aquino.

Now, the 16th Congress must prepare for national elections in 2016, when both a new president and a new legislature will be elected.

This congress is presented the opportunity to polish its image through its inquiries into the Mamasapano incident and its forthcoming deliberations on the Bangsamoro law.

If it exercises statesmanship and upholds the national interest, the way to rehabilitation is open.

If it caves to Malacañang’s typical blandishments of money, it will be time for the people to listen to those who seek an end to bicameralism or a shift to parliamentary government.

Ladies and gentlemen of Congress, your move.


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  1. eltee mulawin on

    >>> Filipino of the Philippines !!!! Stop talking !!! Stop listening !!! BUT DO NOT STOP THINKING BEFORE YOU SAID YES to this proposal B.B.L. of MILF+BIFF+ASG COLLABORATED BY N.D.F. (not CPP-NDF) it is Noynoy Deles Ferrer.

  2. Roldan Guerrero on

    There are still remaining dignified members of the congress but sad to say they are very few.

  3. 16th congress under belmonte is already sold to the highest bidder. what kind of dignity they are talking to redeem. for the few who still believes in them need their heads examine..

  4. I had been with government for so long, and over those years, I had a lot of interactions with Congressmen during hearings at the sub-committee level, committee level and plenary.

    This 16th Congress is the most damaged – the power of the pocket was never lost. Thus, there is nothing to regain. Regaining dignity in 14 months? Forget it.

    Among politicians paticularly at the local level (Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, etc), it appears that politics is not about the “art of governing” or “public service”. In the real world, it is all about vested interest, and whatever benefits that are “thrown” in the direction of the constituency are in the nature of residuals or crumbs.

    Maybe, exceptions are from the partylist groups. They have stronger and passionate advocacies. The others? Truly, they have excellent navigational flexibilities in the stormy waters of politics.

  5. Carlos Ramos Padilla on

    Your set of questions is exemplary because it traverses the before, during, and after the massacre.

    Aquino’s treatment of the massacre as merely a “mis-encounter” proved without doubt that he as even “an apprentice leader” failed miserably!

    Will he treat it likewise, if instead of 44, it was 1,000, or 5,000 or 10,000?

    So, how much value is a single life of a Filipino ?

  6. Hector David on

    Most of those who consider themselves honorable have no honor… No integrity , no patriotism and no backbone ….. Their focus and goals are position power influence and money … To hell with everyone and everything else… They should rot in hell and they will

  7. Regain power and dignity?.

    Not this Congress, Mr Makabenta. Not as long as its members allow themselves to be corrupted and bribed with pork, PDAF, DAP… Not with Belmonte and Drilon acting like pimps and prostituting congressmen and senators to the service of the lying psycho in Malacanang.

  8. Kale Alaskador on

    The present Congress is hopeless! You cannot compare this congress to a woman who has been raped. It is more like a woman who prostituted herself. The dignity is no longer there. It cannot be redeemed! But congress can be changed by replacing those thieving TRAPOS masquerading as congressmen or senators. Better still, abolish CONGRESS!

    • You never abolish Congress. We just need to educate our people to vote wisely. But then, the wise decision springs from an education that begins from the time the child enters kindergarten. With the assumption of Quo Rhee into Malacañang, we seemed to have produced Quo Rhee babies who were always passed continuously into the higher level without regards to merit or performance. Hence, in the long run, we have to reassess the educational system but in the short term, campaign nationwide so that people will never re-elect anyone in the present congress for that is a bunch of prostitutes, except for a few, whose decisions are always dependent on the level and amount of PDAF/DAP available for the taking. When we could have produced a new generation with civic consciousness and patriotism whose choices are always for the greater good, only then can we truly say that we have our democratic choices and a truly free congress.

  9. Guillermo Hernandez on

    Corruption is in the DNA of the Filipinos. You will need to genetically modify 100 million of our countrymen to totally eliminate corruption in the Philippines.

    We almost expect every policeman….city clerk…town mayor…congressman….general…senator…..cabinet secretary…..EVEN THE PRESIDENT to be corrupt….otherwise you are not in the Philippines.

    What else is new in this country ? We are absolutely hopeless.

    • There is always hope. Corruption can never be eliminated totally but it can be minimized drastically. When every transaction is online that even a single purchase of a nail can be scrutinized by a farmer in Tawi-tawi from his cellphone while on his farm, it will be very hard for anyone to steal from government coffers. When a malfeasance is discovered and the perpetrator with all the accomplices in his department are summarily jailed with forfeiture of all assets, even during the pendency of a judicial process, the fear to skim will be a big disincentive. A purchase order or even a bidding goes thru a process like accounting, auditing and legal and if all of these participants are summarily jailed pending determination of guilt, I do not think anyone will still try to pull a fast one.

  10. I doubt the Generals will talk about an order to stand down for the sake of peace pact during calls from SAF Generals for rescue. They have no balls and afraid of the President unlike Generals Danny Lim and Querubin. All the Generals today know are their pabaon and nothing else, no honor, honesty and integrity.

  11. Eddie de Leon on

    It’s s sad that the only people in the House who are consistently patriotic and following a vision of a better Philippines are the Leftists. Most of the members other than the Leftists are all vassals of the Aquino clique. They, just as their master in Malacanang and the Hyatt 10 wizards, whose leader is OPAPP Secretary T. Deles, order them to do is repeat and repeat the mantra that BS Aquno’s is a reform government whose work must not be stopped by those who do not tread the Tuwid na Daan.
    Whyen you ask them what reforms they are talking abut they cannot give you a list!
    What we all see is a list of failures caused by the incompetence and corruption of this administration.
    But they hyprocritically keep on saying they are reformers.

    • They reform their beach house, rest house, condos and mansions. C’mon, don’t you get it?

  12. Alejo Rosete on

    What a very beautiful/clever 3 questions
    to be answered by the House.

    Let us see what happens

    Thanks Yen

  13. It seems to continue brandishing its power, waiting for an uprising to stop it with force. But dignity? I doubt that it will manage to do that. Better we start with a brand new system that will work for us. This one will never work again. It is like a toilet that has been subjected to so much abuse, never cleaned, always full of crap and stink that even muriatic acid will not bring back its original look. Besides, the memory alone is enough for anyone to avoid getting into it, again. Let us end it. Before it explodes into an uncontrollable conflagration from all that stinky gas.

    • Why not create a CLEAN CONGRESS FUND to pay mercenaries to just take care all those legal plunderers? One hundred eighty legislators at 1,000,000 pesos each is not a very big sum. That will be much cheaper than another PDAF allocation.