By focusing our attention on President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s political dysfunctions and constitutional excesses, we may have led ourselves to believe–or at least to hope–that Congress and the Supreme Court remain functional and defensible institutions, despite the near total corruption of our leaders.
It may be quite patriotic to try to keep that hope alive. But the facts may not be able to long sustain it.
Corruption has become the system, as former Defense Secretary/ National Security Adviser and now National Transformation Council member Norberto Gonzales told a recent Kapihan in Quezon City, and that all but a few exceptions are inextricably enmeshed in it. Therefore the people, as sovereign, must now throw out this system, first, by dismissing the entire leadership of our so-called political class.
Of the two other branches under siege, the Judiciary, the unelected branch, has shown the greater courage. For all its built-in weaknesses, heightened by the Malacañang-initiated impeachment and removal of the last pre-Aquino Chief Justice, the Supreme Court has stood its ground on the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which has exposed the full extent of Aquino’s corruption of Congress.
But the Court has other vulnerabilities. By admitting that it gets so much funding from the US AID, the Court has unwittingly revealed why it had to declare the Reproductive Health Law “not unconstitutional” despite the fact that it mandates population control, which violates the Constitution, but in which the US AID has a vested interest.
The Congress, for its part, is totally lost. Both Houses were involved in the Malacanang bribery to pass the widely opposed RH Law, and to impeach and remove Renato Corona, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s last appointed chief justice. Both Aquino and most of the bribe-takers have remained in office, including the leaders of the House committee on justice who just threw out three impeachment complaints against Aquino without any investigation or debate.
But the leaders of both Houses seem to behave as though the crime never happened or that were not at all part of it, the crime, and that they would ultimately be spared from the mounting public rage. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. for one seems to believe that and the thoroughly discredited House could still propose constitutional amendments granting foreigners the same rights as Filipinos to own land, exploit the country’s natural resources and operate public utilities, at a time when the homelessness and landlessness of millions of Filipinos, their having been excluded from the fruits of the nation’s wealth, and their having had to bear the world’s highest cost of public utilities cry to Heaven for justice.
At Belmonte’s initiative, the Congress has just passed a law, which allows big foreign banks henceforth to do business in the Philippines without any restrictions on ownership. This was done without any perceptible public debate, absolutely mindless of the fact that the big international banks have been at the center of the biggest rip-offs of our time, which have seen the sinking of the economies of Iceland, Greece and Cyprus, among others.
Senate President Frank Drilon for his part has “refused to dignify” any and all reports that he, of all the ruling politicians, had the most extensive dealings with the alleged pork barrel “queen” Janet Lim Napoles, and had received the biggest slice of the unconstitutional DAP for his Iloilo projects, just as he had received the biggest “incentives” after convicting Corona. He had received P100 million against Francis Escudero’s P98 million, Johnny Ponce Enrile’s P92 million, and P50 million for the rest of the 20 others, less one, who had voted for Corona’s conviction.
Drilon cannot seem to see that the Senate under his presidency is now all termites-eaten, its very façade, no longer simply its foundation, has begun to crumble. Thus, he sees nothing wrong in the sensational but essentially worthless Senate investigations, ostensibly “in aid of legislation,” into matters already before the Ombudsman, which has allowed corrupt young senators to grandstand on the alleged corruption of others, without having themselves investigated first for their own corruption.
But the self-destruction of the Senate has long proceeded on its own from its sheer refusal to follow its own rules. Take the simple matter of sessions. Under the Rules, the Senate is to meet in plenary session at 3 p.m. on weekdays, except when it decides otherwise. Until I left the Senate in 2001, this meant 3 pm of Monday through Wednesday, and 10 am of Thursday, which was devoted to treaties and local bills. They have cut out the Thursday, and many times at 4 p.m., they have not yet begun.
Attendance in all sessions shall be compulsory, and no committee meeting or hearing shall be held when the session is going on. Today senators routinely skip the session to do so-called “constituency duties,” and sensational committee hearings are free to compete with the plenary session.
The session hall shall be hallowed and sacrosanct, and shall be used solely for legislative business and for the holding of necrological services for a deceased former member of the Senate. Today, it is also used for some awarding ceremonies and convocations.
Only foreign dignitaries and visiting Members of Parliament/Congress of other countries shall be acknowledged by the Chair during sessions. Today, the merest visitor from some rural barangay is acknowledged by the Chair.
Not even the committees have been able to follow their own rules. Under the Rules, one-third of the committee members shall constitute a quorum, but in no case shall it be less than two. Which means, if a committee has five members or fewer, two shall constitute one-third. But a committee of nine or more , 10, 12, cannot do business with just two members present. And yet the record will bear that a great many Senate committee hearings that had recommended specific legislations had only two members present. This renders all such Committee Reports void, except that they were never questioned on the Floor.
On “inquiries in aid of legislation,” the referral of a particular matter to a specific Committee does not mean an automatic mandate upon that committee to investigate. Under the Rules, the Committee should meet and decide whether an actual inquiry is called for. And yet, the Chairperson thinks he or she is the entire committee and interprets any resolution calling for an inquiry as a compulsory directive for the committee to investigate. This is what happened in the current Blue Ribbon political investigation by Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Koko Pimentel and Antonio Trillanes IV into allegations of overpricing in the construction of a Makati city building, which are now in the hands of the Ombudsman.
But what is about to take the cake is the Senate “leadership” surrendering abjectly to a Sandiganbayan order suspending for 90 days two of its members who are now detained on plunder charges. In 1997, the Senate decided in the case of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago that the judicial branch has no power to suspend a member of the legislative branch, and that if such an order were received by the Senate President, it should be immediately sent to the Archives, to be retrieved later if deemed appropriate by the Senate.
That decision was reached after extensive consultations with leading constitutional experts, and upon recommendation of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges under the late former Chief Justice and Senate President Marcelo Fernan and the Committee on Rules, which I chaired. Drilon, the current Senate President, signed that joint committee report as a member of the Committee on Rules.
That he seems to be confused on what to do now, in the face of the Sandigan order suspending Senators Estrada and Enrile, merely shows a part of what has died in the Senate.