After getting bruised (or should I say crushed) by widespread public perception of corruption because of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, Congress still has many options to regain public trust. It is not beyond redemption, if it wants to.
The question is: Are members of Congress willing to pick themselves up and out of a slump to win back public support? Will they give up certain perks and change the bad habits of using their positions or throwing their weight around to gain kickbacks and other personal favors?
The likelihood that they will appears remote. For sure, they will fight tooth and nail to keep their perks and pork, as they did in the 2014 national budget.
If many of the legislators and their relatives blatantly abuse the use of the special plate “7” and “8,” imagine how they misuse other privileges.
I remember a congressman who berated officials of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) during a budget hearing for stopping his daughter who was using a car with the No. “8” special plate. It was a Thursday and plates ending in “8” should be off the road on certain hours. Instead of commending the MMDA for having a traffic aide who was performing his job, its officials got a mouthful.
Instead of filing bills seeking to change names of streets, schools, or buildings, will there be congressmen and senators who would push for the enactment of a measure that will require all candidates for public office in the upcoming 2016 elections to declare their business interests, annual income, and income tax payments once they file their certificates of candidacy?
Actually, all public officials are supposed to disclose their investments in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth that they file yearly. Very few of them declare some business interests, but most do not. Nobody gets punished anyway.
The SALN should also include assets like cash on hand and in bank. So, they are supposed to declare how much disposable money they have, how much are kept in the bank, and how much are invested in real estate, stocks and other valuables.
Why then are they against lifting the confidentiality on bank records? The must be hiding something in the banks and the bank secrecy law shields them from possible investigation for unexplained wealth.
Of course we don’t forget the bank accounts of prominent political personalities who used the fictitious names Jose Velarde and Jose Pidal in recent years.
During the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada and his subsequent trial at the Sandiganbayan for plunder and perjury, other bank accounts in fictitious names and numbers were brought out.
Those bank accounts could not have been opened without the connivance of bank officials. But did anybody get punished for those illegal activities?
Well, Estrada was detained, but he was granted presidential pardon just a couple of days following his conviction for plunder. He did not spend a single day in a real jail. When he was arrested, he was taken to Camp Crame, then later moved to the presidential suite of the Veterans Memorial Hospital and then placed on house arrest in Tanay.
Now, the president who granted pardon to Estrada is herself in detention over irregularities in the 2004 elections. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is on her second term as congresswoman of Pampanga after nine years in the presidency, must be suffering in detention at the suite of Veterans Memorial Hospital, but perhaps the littlest suffering she has had can already be considered a luxury to ordinary detainees who are locked up for petty crimes.
When we ordinary mortals transact with banks, we are asked to produce a government-issued identification card before we can withdraw even a small amount from our own hard-earned money to prove ownership of the account.
When April comes, we have to line up at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to file our annual tax returns, and pay if there is any deficiency.
We have to squeeze our frail bodies inside packed coaches of MRT and LRT while public officials who are supposed to make our life less miserable are driven around in luxury vehicles with back-up security escorts, and dining in fancy restaurants.
Congress and Malacanang are on center stage in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, providing basis to the perception of a deep-seated corruption in government.
With so many members of Congress getting embroiled in various scandals and controversies, there may still be few good ones who may have chosen to just keep quiet.
Next week, Congress will be back in session. It’s still two years away into the next election, but senators and congressmen would most likely engage already if they are not into it yet, in campaigning instead of working for the enactment of drastic reform measures that could serve the country and the economy well. They would most unlikely support any proposal that would expose their real worth.
Perhaps the BIR should dedicate an honest team that would meticulously examine the consistency or inconsistency of what re-electionist candidates in the 2016 elections declared in their latest SALN, and to hale to court those with under-declared assets including incomes, instead of training its guns on sari-sari store owners who earn pittance compared with those in politics and in big business who deliberately avoid paying their dues.
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