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.
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.