Highlights and sidelights of the joint session of Congress

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
BEFORE the national conversation shifts totally to President Rodrigo Duterte’s second state of the nation address (SONA) yesterday, I want to do a quick review of the joint session of Congress last Saturday, and the striking revelations it made about our country and our government today.

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I nearly watched all eight hours of the broadcast and tuned off only when one opposition representative heaped non-stop his questions and objections to martial law.

More interesting and informative were the following highlights and sidelights of the session:

First, as the key take-away from the session, there is broad agreement in the legislature and across the country with the policy position of President Duterte and the armed forces that the island of Mindanao (all of the country’s south) is under threat from rebels and terrorists, and that it will take up to the end of the year for the government to take out the danger.

Two hundred sixty-one legislators agreed with the presidential proposition for the extension of emergency rule. Only 16 members rejected the proposal.

You cannot get more decisive and emphatic than this in a national assembly. Had the score been closer, we could quibble with the message or second-guess the strategy. But with this level of unanimity, the 16th Congress has given President Duterte a mandate to continue with emergency rule in Mindanao. Does this also presage, as some fear, an executive plan to spread military rule to the entire country? We don’t know. That will involve another debate and more numbing speeches.

Second, I was impressed and felt reassured by the extent of representation of our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Congress. They came forward to speak during the deliberations.

The policy of involving all groups, religious and cultural, in the legislature, is being zealously observed. They are eager to exercise their legislative responsibilities—to their constituencies and to the nation.

Third, the cavernous Batasan session hall is not conducive to good speechmaking and spirited exchanges between opposing sides and ideas. Good writing and oratory are wasted here. Even narcissistic politicians will lose interest in themselves.

A debate where you cannot see your opponent is a parody.

One language, one republic
Fourth, I was startled by how fluently and effectively our national language, Filipino, is spoken all over the country, literally up to our hinterlands.

Regardless of their provenance or cultural background, our legislators, Filipino Muslims included, were articulate and comfortable in the national language. We could understand nearly every word said.

Our national language has united the whole country behind a common tongue that all can speak or understand. Mass media, broadcasting especially, has served the objective of integration effectively. The heavy accents recede when Filipino is spoken.

Of course, when some of our legislators had to speak on something complex, they resorted to English, our other official language. It was better all around that our legislators could surprise us speaking in whichever tongue.

5. Fifth, equally startling, I was surprised by the discovery at the joint session that our people are united by the singular idea of a “Republic of the Philippines” and our common citizenship within this republic.

It was gladdening to hear our Muslim brothers and sisters profess their loyalty and support for the republic, and its fight against extremism. There was no bravado by anyone to catch attention and show their dissent from the national consensus, nothing like the insolence of one MILF peace negotiator who refused to recognize the Philippine republic and his membership in the Filipino community.

The view of security forces
6. Sixth, it was good to hear from our security forces, represented by officers and officials who know the situation on the ground in Mindanao and what they are talking about. They speak with greater precision than politicians.

It was stirring to hear one young army officer, who was wounded in the current conflict and who remains in active duty. He spoke up close and personal about the struggle; and he communicated eloquently why the republic must win the war in Mindanao. With courage and sacrifice this vivid, how could our soft-living legislators have voted otherwise?

The extension of martial law is really the baby of the armed forces. They’re the ones who made the assessment that it would take five more months of military rule to take out the rebellion and terrorist threat. They’re the ones who will fight the war. The executive will make the political decisions in Mindanao.

No-thought politics
7. Seventh, there was never any danger that all our legislators would sing in chorus to support martial law. A bloc of naysayers— composed mainly of leftwing legislators and Liberal politicians— steadfastly voiced their dissent from the consensus.

I think I understand now why the militant left cannot elect a single leader from within their ranks to the Senate. Our legislators from the left or cause-oriented groups appear to have an automatic method in defining their positions on issues. They always stand in opposition to the existing government. It’s like the ritualistic rant of activists against the United States: Uncle Sam must automatically and always be opposed.

We are a long way away from parliamentary representation of the left in our Congress. No party-list representative has ever said a word in criticism of the revolutionary taxation and violent attacks by the NPA.

Given the opportunity to speak in Congress, the leftwing representative can orate all day. But it is doubtful whether no-thought politics will ever sway anyone.

Liberals and yellow cult
With their implacable opposition to martial law and anything reminiscent of Ferdinand Marcos, the Liberals and the yellow cult ought to have had a more creditable showing at the joint session.

I expected them to show up prepared to debate the reality of a national security crisis facing the country. Had they been wise, they would have prepared persuasive statements on the need to go slow in extending martial law in Mindanao.

But they allowed the moment to pass with the same tired arguments and alarms. For weeks, they had been demanding a joint session to address the subject of martial law. But now when the opportunity was at hand, they seemed tongue-tied.

The Liberal Party and the yellow cult as a political group still cannot find their bearings in the age of Duterte. The indictment of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd has intimidated them. They can’t understand why their brand has become toxic.

The sheepish manner with which Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon challenged the martial-law extension resolution showed the state of their morale. The odd reasoning advanced by LP president Francis Pangilinan in explaining his vote showed the state of their minds.

What will be left of our country?

It was jolting to hear the word patriotism (love of country) mentioned once or twice during the proceedings.

I took this as a grace note because Congress will soon be deep in debate over the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The way out of difficulty with BBL for President Duterte, Speaker Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd is federalism—give every region or group their own state to love and cherish.

By the time they finish tinkering with the Constitution, what will be left of our country for us to love? Or fight for? What is the battle of Marawi all about?

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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