Self-dealing of senators must be checked

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WE join Buhay Party List Rep. Lito Atienza in calling attention to the anomalous situation, where a sitting senator can repeatedly run for election to a higher office, and yet return to the Senate once he or she is beaten in a free and fair balloting.

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We have seen this phenomenon several times over the past decade. And we will see it repeated this coming 2016 election, unless we stop the practice at the ballot box and unless Congress passes a law stopping it.

The anomaly consists of this: In the 1980s, the now defunct Batasang Pambansa passed Batasang Pambansa No. 881, an electoral reform law requiring candidates seeking higher office to resign.

To pass the law, the United Democratic Opposition (Unido) led by Salvador Laurel joined hands with the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan of President Ferdinand Marcos to enact BP 881.

In 1992, just six years after Marcos’s ouster, Congress through the efforts of the Senate, succeeded in amending BP 881, and in exempting legislators from BP 881 in a clearly brazen and self-serving move.

A clear case of self-dealing
When senators worked to amend BP 881, they clearly engaged in self-dealing. They were taking advantage of their position in a transaction and acting for their own selfish interests instead of for the interests of the people and the nation.

Self-dealing is a form of conflict of interest.

Political scientists Ken Kernaghan and John Langford define self-dealing as “a situation where one takes an action in an official capacity which involves dealing with oneself in a private capacity and which confers a benefit on oneself.”

The amendment of BP 881 did not benefit the members of the House of Representatives because their terms expire every three years. They didn’t have to resign if they had run for a higher office for their terms would have ended at the time they either won or lost in the election.

The amendment has benefited mainly senators who have unexpired terms and who want to run for either president or vice president, and hope to retain a Senate seat as a fallback position.

One consequence is the strange career of Sen. Loren Legarda, who has run repeatedly for higher office since 2004, when she ran as the running mate of Fernando Poe Jr. After losing, she returned to her seat in the Senate.

In 2010 she ran for vice president again, this time as the running mate of Manny Villar. After losing, she again returned to the Senate.

This saga stands to be repeated in the 2016 elections because there are four senators with unexpired terms who are running for higher office, namely, Senators Grace Poe, Chiz Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes. Poe is running for president while the other three senators have declared their candidacies for vice president.

If they lose, they can all return to the Senate.

Atienza’s point recalls the cogent logic of BP 881.

“The first test of a candidate’s integrity if he’s seeking higher office is to resign, whether one is elected or appointed,” said Atienza. He challenged candidates running for higher office to have a sense of decency to resign and not seek refuge in their former positions when they lose.

His demand does not apply to Vice President Binay, who’s running for President in 2016, because the Vice President must retain his office in order to preclude a power vacuum in the event of President Aquino’s death or resignation. In any case, Binay’s term will end in June 2016.

The remedy for senatorial opportunism is electoral reform or the re-enactment of BP 881.

It requires reform because the idea of taking advantage of the law diverts a senator’s attention away from his legislative duties. It could also drive him to entertain deals that will compromise his office.

Self-dealing by the Senate and its members require urgent attention, because the Senate engaged in self-dealing when it invented the senatorial pork barrel for senators to the tune of P200 million per year, whereas until then the pork barrel had been exclusively for representatives and the districts they represented.

The senatorial pork barrel was many times more pernicious because senators claimed the entire country as their constituency to serve. It expanded the size of and the greed fed by the pork barrel.

From there, it is understandable why many were caught in the spider’s web of Janet Lim Napoles.

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13 Comments

  1. I believe and agree with the editorial page, the practice is clearly self-dealing, selfishness greed of power whatever. The practice must and must be stopped. What we are going to practice is “delicadeza” instead. This people who are supposedly highly educated should be ashamed of themselves. What happened to people power? I say we are back again to our old old ways. Nothing has change.

  2. jose taganahan on

    I beg to dis-agree, the term of a Philippine Senator is 6 years so if a Senator who is elected in 2013 runs for President or Vice President in 2016 and lost then as provided by law he or she should served the balance of his or her term. This is also true for US Senators although US Senators have to serve four (4) years for a term if they run for President or Vice President after the middle of their 4-year term and lost they too returned to the Senate to serve the balance of their term. This was true as in the case of Senator John McCain who was the GOP standard bearer in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama in 2008.Sen John McCain served the balance of his term in the Senate and was again re-elected in 2010

    • yes of course.. the only difference with US and Philippine politics is that the wannabe in the US goes through a rigorous selection process before he/she becomes the standard bearer of the party. unlike in the Philippines where any wannabe can announce his/her candidacy even without going through the rigorous process of being selected as the standard bearer of the party. just look at the Nationalista party where 3 went ahead in announcing their candidacy for VP with or without the blessing of the party… to each his own is their motto. they are bold enough precisely because they can go back to their elected position if they lose… and with some contribution money to spare.

  3. The bottom line for this is the PORK BARREL of P200million/year per senator and for Congressman is P100 million/year. Ito ang dahilan, because of money. Ito ang tunay na dahilan, at hindi ang magserbisyo sa Taong bayan at sa Pilipinas.
    OMG GOD SAVE THE PHILIPPINES FROM THIS CROOKS minds of politicians.
    Shame on you people. Binoto kayo ng mga filipino hindi para sa pork barrel??? magsilbi kayo sa mamayang filipino para umunlad ang bayan at hindi ang sarili ninyong bulsa..

  4. it should not limit on running high office. resignation shall be mandatory when running in any elective office (higher or lower).

  5. noelravalsalaysay on

    I agree-all sitting senadors running for higher office in 2016 should RESIGN when they file their candidacy with the COMELEC,to forego the power of incumbency to show their integrity and delikadesa.

  6. BP 881 was written into law to prevent any possible challenger to Ferdinand Marcos. The amendment to rewrite the law after Marcos’ fall was the right thing to do, it was not self-dealing as this article would suggest or what Rep. Atienza thinks it is. It is not a phenomenon as the article say it is.

    It has been the practice in the US that was adopted by the Philippines in our constitution. It is the most democratic practice and in recent times the world witnessed US Sen. Dole, McCain and Kerry run for president of the US and lost and returned to their senate post. Philippines senators Manglapus and Manahan did it the 60’s when they run under the Party for Philippine Progress.

  7. I agree that the amendment made to BP 881 is self-dealing but what if the majority or let’s say all of the incumbent senators decided to run for president or vice-president?

    Should they all resign for the sake of integrity? You have exempted VP Binay as his resignation will create a power vacuum but that will also happen if majority or all of the incumbent senators will resign just for them to be qualified to join an election.

    Will you just recommend instead to limit the number of senators that will run for a higher position to prevent the political disbandment of the Senate?

    And why do we exempt the President and Vice-president from the ipso facto resignation upon filing of candidacy? Just because they are in the so-called two highest positions in the government?

    The presidential and vice-presidential positions are not the highest positions in the government. That would run counter to the independence and co-equality of the Executive branch with the other two branches, the Congress and Judiciary. The House Speaker and the Senate President are the highest positions in Congress and the Chief Justice is the highest position in the Judiciary. Surely, only a layman would suggest that the president and the vice-president occupy higher positions than the other leaders of our government.

    And also, the president or vice-president can just run for a senator or congressman or even a barangay chairman in the middle of his 6-year term but since he did not resign before joining the elections, he can just continue his incumbent positions whether he won or lost the elections.

    The last part is not a typographical error. I say that even if a president or vice-president who decided to join the elections in the middle of his term wins, he may still decide not to accept the position he was newly elected and just enjoy his incumbent position. I know this is absurd but in the political arena most of the things that are happening are utterly or obviously senseless in a layman’s point of view.

    What do we say about the Senate President, and the Chief Justice? Why do they need to resign before joining any election while its counterpart, the President, is exempted? And why is the vice-president exempted too? Surely, I do not see any co-equality and independence here.

  8. Senate voted by the people nationwide is useless. Senators must be voted by region where the candidate resides.