MARTIAL LAW is gone but the Philippines still has a rubber-stamp legislature. This we should ponder on while a number will be extolling the regaining of democracy 30 years ago. The principle of checks and balances, a hallmark of republicanism, remains a dream despite the supposed death of dictatorship. This we should ponder on while a number extols the regaining of democracy 30 years ago.
The two chambers of Congress, especially the House, may shout to the whole world that they have become independent till they are blue in the face but nobody will believe them. The 16th Congress will be remembered by history as one of the most subservient ones to Malacañang.
The Senate has lost its luster since Sen. TG Guingona became chairman of the blue ribbon committee. This premier panel has turned into shield for Malacañang against any serious issue that could tar its “tuwid na daan.” It ignored resolutions and numerous demands to investigate reports on the misuse of billions of pesos of the Malampaya Fund. Budget Secretary Butch Abad was never questioned on the misuse of pork barrel by administration allies. On the other hand, Guingona was quick to praise testimonies against political opponents.
The latest act of the lawmakers shows the degree of infamy that the current Congress has sunk into. They passed by a near unanimous vote after almost three years the bill of Rep. Neri Colmenares seeking to increase the monthly pension of retired Social Security System members by P2,000. But, when President BS Aquino The Last vetoed it, Congress, especially the congressmen, almost unanimously echoed his sentiments against the measure that they had praised and voted for earlier.
Aside from the shameless about-face of lawmakers on the SSS pension hike, there’s also the proposal that the President increase the salary of national government employees without an enabling law by using a presidential decree issued by President Ferdinand Marcos during his martial law regime.
PD 1597 is one of the decrees promulgated by Marcos that has succeeded in making the legislature a rubber stamp. This is ignored by Aquino’s minions who want him to use it after the bicameral conference committee had hit a deadlock. Never mind that this makes a laughing stock of the legislature’s inherent Power of the Purse. This makes the lawmakers complicit in the clipping of their own wings.
A truly independent Congress would have been zealous of its power and prerogatives and moved for the repeal of PD 1597. I guess this is too much to expect of the spineless members of the 16th Congress. Maybe, with an enlightened electorate, we will have an upcoming Congress that knows how to assert its independence.
The next Congress must go beyond repealing PD 1597 if it doesn’t want to be a rubber-stamp legislature. PD 1597 is nothing compared to the wide-scale devastation of an independent legislature wrought by PD 1177, ironically called the Budget Reform Law of 1977.
This martial law decree allows the president to transfer funds from one department to another, reduce or augment the funds for some programs, stop the implementation of projects and refuse to allocate funds to anything the president doesn’t like. It also provides for the automatic appropriation of debt services.
PD 1177 enables the president to thumb his nose at the approved national budget for he can tinker with it anyway he wants. As long as this PD is in the statute books, the legislature’s Power of the Purse remains a myth. Sure, Congress “approves” a Malacañang-proposed budget for a fiscal year but the budget process goes beyond the enactment of the General Appropriations act. Funds must still be released from the National Treasury for the purposes stated in the annual budget and this is where the Executive holds sway. Malacanang is the only one that has the key to the national coffers, which it can close and open as it pleases.
Insofar as the budget is concerned, it’s Malacañang that proposes and it’s Malacañang that disposes. It’s no wonder then that all presidents after Marcos had refused to part with the power granted them under PD 1177. What’s a source of wonder is why no Congress after the lifting of martial law has shown any determination to repeal this law that has made its Power of the Purse a myth.
As long as PDs that make Congress a virtual rubber stamp of the Executive are in the stature books, any celebration of EDSA People Power will remain hollow.