Scrambling for committee assignments normal

Efren L. Danao

Efren L. Danao

This Jaded Congress insider believes that angling for choice committee assignments is par for the course at the start of any First Regular Session. It’s but natural for senators and even congressmen to air their preferred assignments preference. There’s nothing ominous about this. Unlike some doomsayers, I believe that rivalry over committee assignments won’t break up the Liberal-led Senate majority in the upcoming 16th Congress.

In the 8th Congress (1987-1992), Rep. Francisco “Komong” Sumulong of Rizal, uncle of President Cory, contested the post of Speaker with Rep. Ramon V. Mitra of Palawan.
Sumulong lost but stayed with the majority. Rep. Nikki Coseteng of Quezon City lost to Rep. Tony Cuenco of Cebu City in her quest for the Speaker Pro-tempore post, but she didn’t join the minority.

Oh, yes, Rep. Joe de Venecia of Pangasinan created many positions of leadership during his tenure as Speaker to satisfy the desire of many congressmen for chairmanships. He abolished the post of Speaker Pro-tempore and replaced it with those of Deputy Speakers for Luzon, Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao. (There were seven deputy speakers in the 15th Congress.) He also splintered vital committees and created special ones, such that the House has now 58 standing committees and 11 special committees, aside from the oversight committees that also have members from the Senate.

Sure, there were upheavals in the leadership at the House and the Senate but these didn’t emanate from dissatisfaction with committee assignments. Some might have sulked for not getting what they wanted but they didn’t go over to the minority because of this.

The Philippine legislature still has to produce the likes of Rep. Stephen Brooks of the Nevada State legislature, who threatened to kill the Speaker after failing to get his preferred committee chairmanship. Brooks was later given psychiatric treatment before being convicted and jailed.

At the start of the recently concluded 15th Congress, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan wanted to be the majority leader, but Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had already committed the post to Sen. Tito Sotto. He then made known his desire to head the Blue Ribbon Committee, but this was given to Sen. TG Guingona 3rd. Senator Kiko was foiled twice, but he soldiered on with the majority. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago wanted to be chairman anew of the Committee on Foreign Relations but remained with the majority even after the assignment was given to Sen. Loren Legarda.

Abolish the Blue Ribbon!

Incidentally, I cringe at the thought of Senator Guingona retaining the chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon. If he would, then the Senate might as well abolish this committee, which could be transformed into providing rear-guard duty for the administration. I fear that TG Guingona as chairman of the Blue Ribbon will make sure that no Senate investigation will taint the “tuwid na daan” of President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd.

The performance and pronouncements of Guingona in the 15th Congress unmasked him as an inveterate acolyte or altar boy of Malacanang. I don’t expect him to change in the 16th. With his blinders, he could not possibly see any anomaly that could tar the Aquino administration. Several times, while investigating alleged corruption under the previous administration, he declared ex-cathedra that such corruption was no longer possible under the new administration.

How subservient is Senator Guingona to the administration? Once, he asked his staff to transmit a newly finalized committee report to Malacanang. He was the only senator I know to make an accomplishment report to Malacanang first, as if Malacanang and not the Senate was his principal. Thankfully, he has remained the only one to do so.

Even while he had barely started his inquiries, Guingona was already making conclusions. So what were further hearings for? In aid of publicity? He was fast at concluding that accusations against officials of the previous administration had been proven but was most solicitous of the rights to due process of officials close to the present one.

The Blue Ribbon under Guingona bore hard on retired military officers who could not recall events that took place about six years earlier. Yet, the panel accepted readily the claim of then Undersecretary Rico Puno, the President’s shooting buddy, that he could not remember the names of the “jueteng” emissaries who had visited him a few months earlier, nor the names of alleged jueteng operators contained in an intelligence report given to him by the Philippine National Police except that of Bong Pineda.

Oh yes, the Blue Ribbon didn’t even bother to make a committee report on that inquiry into the resurgence of jueteng operations under the Aquino administration. It couldn’t possibly do so without making a mockery of the administration’s “tuwid na daan.


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