Senator Joker Arroyo, who was about to retire from public service, lamented what he called the death of courtesy in the chamber he was leaving behind. In an interview with reporters recently, the man harked back to the not-so-distant past when the minority lavished praises on the majority, and vice-versa, as they bowed out to give way to the next Congress.
Now the senators, whether they belong to the majority or the minority, cannot even bring themselves to treat one another with civility.
Do we have to tell Mr. Arroyo there is no majority-minority divide in the legislature, or party affiliations either? What passes for party affiliations are a simple commonality of interest, and it usually involves financial assistance from the sitting president to ensure victory in the next elections.
The people do not share Mr. Arroyo’s nostalgia. They would rather see courtesy dead and never resurrected, if courtesy means, as it is often the case, senators covering up one another’s tracks. And we’re afraid there’s nothing to praise in the Senate. Or in the House of Representatives either.
So let the charges and counter-charges fly, the more lurid the details the better, and let the people be the judge.
He didn’t say it so, but Mr. Arroyo wanted the senators to settle their differences behind closed doors.
But the people see things differently. They realize only too well that when senators—or members of any collegial body—talk among themselves the last thing in their mind is the protection of public interests.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago decried what he called favoritism in the distribution of funds under the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses outlay. The lady senator resented the fact that she and three other senators, the siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV, received no more than P250,000 each, when the rest got a whooping P1.6 million each, described by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his allies as Christmas gift.
But Ms. Defensor rose in outrage, not because of the thievery in the government—there’s no better word to describe it—but because she and the others were not getting their rightful share of the loot. In other words, she wanted more, not less corruption.
Mr. Enrile resigned his post, but with a demand that each senator explain how they spent the millions of pesos he had approved for the upkeep and maintenance of their offices and committees. He had disbursed the money because of their palambing; now they were just watching him twist in the wind from the sidelines.
Senator Panfilo Lacson tried to turn the table on Santiago, calling her “a crusading crook (nice alliteration there),” who diverted public funds to build a cockpit arena for her husband. An Enrile protégé during martial law, he made the accusation to deflect criticism from his former patron. He succeeded only in inflicting further damage on the Senate as an institution
There’s hope for reform in the Senate, slim as it may be. Out of the 24 senators, three—Santiago, Alan Peter and Trillanes—rose to denounce the theft of the people’s money, never mind their motive.
Not a soul in the House of Representatives came forward to provide evidence in the P728 million fertilizer scam, allegedly used in the 2004 elections. It was perhaps naïve to expect cooperation from any of the 140 congressmen involved, but even those who had nothing to do with the scam could not be persuaded to cooperate
That is courtesy, of which Mr. Arroyo spoke with fondness. The congressmen are courteous to one another because they too could be in a similar fix. And when they do, where would they be without it?
In 1992, criticism rained down on the US House of Representatives following revelations that its members were in the habit of overdrawing their House Bank accounts.
The check-kiting scandal, as it was called, allowed congressmen to write checks against their accounts, even when these accounts were insufficient to cover the amounts written on the checks. The bank simply advanced the money, with notice to the offending congressmen to settle the difference.
The practice did not involve government funds, and taxpayers suffered no injury. However, it so incensed the public that the House leadership was compelled to launch an investigation.
Out of the 355 current and former congressmen involved, four were convicted and drew stiff sentences, 77 resigned or were ousted the following 1994 elections.
Do Filipino legislators have a lower moral bar to clear? It seems they have none at all.