In defense of Congress, the institution

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Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

I spent almost 10 years in Philippine Congress (both chambers) as a congressional staff and I have always been a student of legislatures. I know a lot of people will raise their brows but I will go on a limb for the institution and not the persons occupying the 16th today.

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Congress is the only institution in a democracy that is elected by the people. The voters are the public of Congress. That is the essence of taxation with representation. In the Executive, the President is the only one elected and the rest are all appointed. The voters are the public of the President; he is accountable to them while appointed officials are accountable to the appointing power.

Again, due to the supremacy of the people, the Legislative Department (Article VI) comes first before the Executive (Article VII) and the Judiciary (Article VIII) in the PH Constitution. So, if Congress is the bastion of the people’s representatives, why is it being attacked and pummeled? Why are the leaderships of both chambers satisfied in being pilloried and banged? Why are they content to stand beside the President in a public briefing to be mere appendages? Why are they not standing for the institution?

As early as 14 August 2013, I have called for a Joint Congressional inquiry on the pork with members of previous congresses as members. The institution will have to stand up on its own and deal with the issues if it honors the separation of powers principle. As co-equal branch, Congress should be able to determine what is wrong with the process and institute corrective measures but it has chosen to remain quiet. It has chosen to allow the Executive to institute reform, grandstanding at their expense when the paper trail on pork begins with DBM and ends with a government agency of the Executive. Congress has chosen to be bludgeoned by accusations as if everyone in Congress are corrupt, that there are no clean ones and everyone is guilty and doing the same.

I now ask legislators, what about the institution? Do you care about the institution? No wonder people have low regard of Congress. Instead of seizing the moment and institute congressional reform, you lie low, you recuse yourselves; you let the Executive paint you in a corner. Instead of working the budget and ensuring the issues are responded to, you wait for the Executive’s mandate; instead of making public the DBM documents you have received in SARO and NCA and its implementation with the Executive agencies, you act like an ostrich and bury your head; instead of putting together a legislative agenda to give priority to the Freedom of Information, you remain quiet while COA bamboozles you and the Executive cleans the mess blamed on you. Why? Have you no institutional pride?

What about the syndicates that approach you offering you ways to fast track your projects? What about the different Napoleses prowling the chambers telling you ways and means to fix things? Some of you have questioned them and some of you got mad at them, so why do you not stand up to defend the institution? Its time to let the sun shine in!

The Blue Ribbon hearing led by Sen. TG Guingona showed to all that it can be done; reason will prevail amidst the call for blood. That there are errors in the COA special audit can be raised up and that those painted in a corner can ask clarificatory questions to put to context the audit findings. But the institution can do much more on two points: set up the Joint congressional group and revise the budget.

As the Supreme Court ruled in Philconsa versus Enriquez (G.R. No. 113174 August 19, 1994) so shall the 16th be guided:

“Under the Constitution, the spending power called by James Madison as “the power of the purse,” belongs to Congress, subject only to the veto power of the President. The President may propose the budget, but still the final say on the matter of appropriations is lodged in the Congress.

The power of appropriation carries with it the power to specify the project or activity to be funded under the appropriation law. It can be as detailed and as broad as Congress wants it to be.

The Countrywide Development Fund is explicit that it shall be used “for infrastructure, purchase of ambulances and computers and other priority projects and activities and credit facilities to qualified beneficiaries . . .” It was Congress itself that determined the purposes for the appropriation.

Executive function under the Countrywide Development Fund involves implementation of the priority projects specified in the law.

The authority given to the members of Congress is only to propose and identify projects to be implemented by the President. Under Article XLI of the GAA of 1994, the President must perforce examine whether the proposals submitted by the members of Congress fall within the specific items of expenditures for which the Fund was set up, and if qualified, he next determines whether they are in line with other projects planned for the locality. Thereafter, if the proposed projects qualify for funding under the Funds, it is the President who shall implement them. In short, the proposals and identifications made by the members of Congress are merely recommendatory.

The procedure of proposing and identifying by members of Congress of particular projects or activities under Article XLI of the GAA of 1994 is imaginative as it is innovative.

The Constitution is a framework of a workable government and its interpretation must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of government. Prior to the GAA of 1991, there was an uneven allocation of appropriations for the constituents of the members of Congress, with the members close to the Congressional leadership or who hold cards for “horse-trading,” getting more than their less favored colleagues. The members of Congress also had to reckon with an unsympathetic President, who could exercise his veto power to cancel from the appropriation bill a pet project of a Representative or Senator.”

Congressional leadership should rise to the challenge and members should seize the moment to pass reforms in the budget process (discretionary fund needs to be defined, congressional impoundment explored, earmarks considered, etc.), policy on transparency and accountability (FOI should be the no. 2 agenda after GAA), strengthen COA (ensure sharing of documents between DBM and COA; audits should be annually made), create a GAO in Congress, etc.

Lincoln’s famous phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” should be Congress’ guide. As a co-equal, there should be independence from the Executive. The 16th should not allow the Executive to cherry pick and it should point out if they are doing so, that is why a Joint body is urgent.

To the Legislators, your authority emanates from the people. The people have the power and you know that very well, unless . . . you are a product of PCOS?

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1 Comment

  1. unfortunately, most if not all members of the senate and congress have forgotten about their real duties and that they were elected by the people that they should serve and NOT the executive…kawawang pilipino