Congress under Duterte’s thumb



“TAYO nga kami ng tayo pero kayo, pa-opo opo lang!” – the witty reply of MP Orly Mercado to criticisms by the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan that the opposition members of the regular Batasan were always ready to jump out their seats to lambaste then President Ferdinand Marcos and the ruling KBL.

In defending the opposition, Mercado also took a dig at the KBL legislators’ being “yes men” (pa-opo opo lang) of the dictator.

I recall this repartee that took place while I was covering the regular Batasan for the Veritas newsmagazine for it shows that the Philippines has had legislators brave enough to speak out even when democracy was imperiled by a strongman’s stranglehold on the lawmaking body.

Do we have such lawmakers during the incumbency of President Rodrigo Duterte who’s been exhibiting dictatorial tendencies?

Challenge of the times
My eyesight may not be as good now but I can see only a few who would fight tooth and nail to prevent Congress from becoming a virtual adjunct of Malacañang. The regular Batasan (1984-1986) had members like Jose B. Laurel Jr., Ramon V. Mitra, Nene Pimentel, Bono Adaza, Alberto Romulo, Marcelo B. Fernan, Cecilia Munoz Palma, Lito Atienza, Rolando R. Andaya, Oscar Santos, Raffy Recto, Francisco Sumulong, Wilson Gamboa, Rogaciano Mercado, Orly Mercado and dozens of others who were uncompromising about preserving the independence of the legislature. Who among the incumbent lawmakers, especially congressmen, can hold a candle to these opposition members of the Batasan?

Some 61 candidates defeated their KBL rivals in the 1984 Batasan elections. They belonged to different political parties—Unido, Liberal, Pinaghi-usa, Mindanao Alliance, and PDP-Laban, among others—but they remained true to their constituents who wanted a voice against the excesses of martial law and against one-man rule.

Last May 2016, an overwhelming majority of local, congressional and senatorial candidates won against those of Duterte’s PDP-Laban. A few weeks after Duterte ‘s proclamation, many feckless politicians took their oath as PDP-Laban members. Oh well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since 1992, there has been no such thing as party loyalty in the Philippines. As the saying goes, “If you demand loyalty, buy a dog, not a politician.”

Politicians are like ants who go where the sugar is. Or, are they like vultures who go where the carcass is? Whatever, politicians should be able to give wise counsel even to a strongman in Malacañang who once threatened to close down Congress if it goes against him, and whose favorite word is “kill.”

The three mythical monkeys
Only utter cowardice and lack of spine could make a supposedly independent legislator be like the three mythical monkeys who see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil from Malacañang. Most of our congressmen are like the KBL members of the Batasan described by MP Orly Mercado as “pa-opo opo lang.” Why can’t they have a mind of their own?

President Duterte said he wanted a federal-parliamentary form of government and this should cover even Muslim Mindanao. This led his rah-rah boys in Congress to say there’s no longer a need to pass a Basic Law for Bangsamoro. But when the President changed his mind, so did his men in the House who immediately filed a bill on the Bangsamoro. The President’s frequent shifts on how to amend the Constitution hasn’t fazed his loyalists in the House who continue to go where the wind from Malacañang blows.

Loyalists, did I say? Well, they are his loyalists for as long as he is President. His “loyalists” are the former loyalists of President BS Aquino The Last, and the “loyalists” of Aquino were once loyalists of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and so on down the line.

Nobody is perfect, not even one as popular as President Duterte. He needs to listen to well-meaning friends and legislators who want him to understand that his words are policies and should be carefully weighed. His words should be precise so as to leave nothing to the imagination, especially of the creative kind. His puzzling comments on relations with China and the United States immediately come to mind.

Of course, I am proceeding from the presumption that President Duterte is receptive to advice and criticism, that he doesn’t take these things as an affront to his person and his office. Or, am I presuming too much?


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  1. The no. 1 turncoat was Cong. Reynaldo Umali of Mindoro, the famous “small lady” during the Corona impeachment. He was a die hard Pnoy rah-rah boy during Pnoy’s administration, but when Duterte won, he immediately jumped ship even before congress opened. What an opportunist! There are lots more in both senate and congress, in fact majority of the rah-rah boys now of Duterte are the same rah-rah boys of Pnoy.

  2. If I may add, many of our ‘so-called’ current lawmakers are not only “pa-opo opo”; they are also “pa-upo upo” lang!