THE 16th Congress has been in session for almost five months with only one measure that has become law—Republic Act 10632, postponing the October 28, 2013 Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
The only law that the present Congress has so far produced tasked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to set the new date of the SK elections between October 28, 2014 and February 23, 2015.
With two weeks remaining before the Senate and the House of Representatives adjourn for a month-long Christmas break, the proposed 2014 budget of P2.26 trillion should be ratified by December 20 so it can be sent to the President for enactment.
And there’s also a proposed P14.6-billion supplemental budget to augment the calamity fund to rebuild public infrastructures destroyed during recent calamities, including monster typhoon Yolanda that the President had certified for urgent approval.
The Senate and the House have a combined expenditure budget of P9.65 billion this year. That translates to P804.29 million a month. From August to December, that means P4.02 billion in hard-earned public money down the drain.
The amounts exclude P762.82-million budget for the Senate and House electoral tribunals tasked to settle electoral protests, and for the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) that screens presidential appointments to top-rank positions in the Cabinet, military, and diplomatic posts.
Personal services or benefits including salaries, allowances and bonuses for the legislators and their employees eat up roughly 50 percent of the allocations for the legislative bodies, and the rest for maintenance and operational requirements.
The pork and other perks of legislators are tucked in the budget of other agencies and therefore not included in these amounts.
It is indeed quite costly to keep the Congress. But we have to. The Congress is one of the many important symbols of democracy and freedom. Its primary function is not only to make laws, but also to check against the abuses of the executive branch including the President.
At this time of financial difficulties and amidst charges of graft and corruption levelled against legislators, it becomes important to take a serious look at the power and significance of Congress as a legislative body.
As maker of laws, Congress should pass legislations and the executive branch implements. The judiciary – third branch of government- settles legal disputes between the two other branches.
Our Constitution, present and past, clearly provide for separation of powers among the three branches. Nowhere does it open avenues for collusion or intervention.
But with the controversies involving the abuse and misuse of the so-called pork barrel funds by the executive and the legislative branches, the principle of checks and balance seemed to have gone awry.
Passing only one law in the first six months of the three-year life of the 16th Congress is not something to be proud of about.
Crafting and passing legislation is the most significant power that Congress has, and performance is counted on the number of bills that have become law, not on the number of bills filed, privileges speeches delivered, or bills approved on second or third readings.
The public bickering between two senior senators, trading accusations and insults, and calling each other indigestible names should have no place at all in the august chambers of Congress. There is nothing dignified in a lady senator availing herself of the privilege hour and going ballistic in her delivery of a speech against an old male colleague who chose to fiddle with his electronic tablet to ignore the insults of the lady speaker.
Congress seems to be engaged in massive self-destruction. The P10-billion pork barrel and related scams had successfully pulled down public trust and respect in the Congress as an institution
The recent controversies pose serious challenges to the leaders of Congress to chart a new direction for real reforms that the public can feel so they can trust their lawmakers again.
It will take Supermen to redeem the institution. Senators and congressmen should propose laws that make sense, not those that mandate selling of rice by half-a-cup or granting perpetual income tax exemption to a boxing hero who can’t even follow the simple requirement of declaring his earnings.
We need lawmakers who will truly serve the public good, not those who engage in verbal fights or those with suicidal thinking.
We need lawmakers who will make functional laws, not those who are to first violate laws and regulations. We need lawmakers who are humble and kind, not those who enrich themselves by using their positions to seek personal and business favors.
We need lawmakers who will make our country proud, not those who make the public squirm over the arrogance of their lawmakers.
If the quality of laws churned out year in and out continue to deteriorate, if the plenary speeches continue to be about personal attacks against a colleague or another person, it looks more logical to take seriously the suggestion to just abolish Congress, rather than keep an irrelevant legislature.