Shutting down the madhouse

16

The Senate blue ribbon committee affair must have alarmed such a number of people that wherever I have gone these days, one question kept coming up–isn’t it time to abolish the Senate? Many seem to feel the inmates are now running the madhouse, and the only thing to do is to shut it down. I have had to answer, the question is not whether it’s time, but how?

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I take no comfort in it at all. I used to be a proud member of the Senate. In 1992, after ten years in the Cabinet, six years in the Batasan, and so many years in journalism, I landed in the Senate. This was long before the august body got embroiled in bribery, grand theft and the uncontrolled grandstanding of its most freewheeling members.

I served two consecutive terms, mostly as chairman of the Committee on Rules and Senate majority leader to five Senate presidents. I authored and sponsored a number of important legislations, debated major national and international issues, and produced, among other things, two books of speeches from the Floor, which not many others have done in the long history of the Senate. In an extreme act of generosity, the gentler souls in the press called me “the Moral Conscience of the Senate.”

I was proud of the Senate. This is why I am not embarrassed when people still call me “Senator,” even though I have long left the office, and it seems to mean so little to be a senator these days. Indeed, things have changed. No longer is the Senate the august body where men and women served with honor, patriotism and wisdom and argued against their own personal interests in favor of the common good.

Mediocrity and opportunism persist. It seems that one has to be certifiably unfit in order to fit; the highest distinction often goes to the most unfit. Still we have a right to expect some things from this unprepossessing elite. Although their duty is to make laws, we expect them to know that we do not need a law every time a problem arises; certain things are always right and no longer need to be legislated, and certain things are always wrong and can never be legislated.

But as the nation is governed by a Constitution, and the Senate by its own Rules, people expect each of the senators to know a little of these things. This is an irreducible minimum requirement. Neither do we want them to commit plunder and get away with it simply by accusing others of their own crimes. Nor do we want them to take bribes from smugglers, drug traffickers, gambling lords, and other criminal lords, or even from the President himself who wants to control Congress by corrupting its members.

But many of them have committed crimes, and have not been prosecuted, much less punished. In 2012, they took a bribe from the Office of the President, which used the unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund and the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program to remove a sitting Chief Justice, who now turns out to be far more innocent than any of his impenitent congressmen-accusers and prosecutors and senator-judges.

This irretrievably tarred the Senate when it failed to impose any sanctions on the bribe-takers. Unprosecuted and unpunished, some of them have now morphed into accusers, investigators and judges, all rolled into one, of the unlucky object of their inquisitorial impulses. This is the great scandal that has caused the rising clamor against the Senate.

Unable to stop Senators Antonio Trillanes 4th, Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel 3rd from using the blue ribbon committee for their political ends, many have come to believe the only way to defang the three young terrors is to take away the committee, which has become an instrument of political mayhem.

Procedurally speaking, this should not be too complicated. It would require no more than a motion on the Floor, which the Senate could quickly act upon if it was so minded. Some years back, then Senate President Neptali Gonzales of happy memory had proposed its abolition, saying it was not the Senate’s business to investigate or to try any criminal suspect. It was something for the police, the prosecutors and the courts, he said.

In fact, were the Senate to investigate any such suspect, in violation of the Constitution and its Rules, and ask the Ombudsman to file criminal charges against him or her afterward, the latter would still have to conduct its own investigation before filing any charges, as though the Senate had never investigated. This would be the exact situation of the alleged pork barrel “queen,” Janet Lim Napoles, despite and after her nearly interminable “inquiry” by the Senate. So the late former Senate President’s point was well put.

However, the committee chair then pleaded that the Blue Ribbon “investigations” gave the Senate the only way to assert its power vis-a-vis the Executive, which tended to overreach. Then as now, it was not much of an argument, for any Senator worth his salt could always use the Privilege Hour or the “Question of personal and collective privilege” or the Question Hour to put anything to the Executive.

But Senate camaraderie prevented Gonzales from pursuing his point. He did not want to divide the House on the issue, and so he yielded. The unhappy result of that yielding was the series of abuses that soon followed. The most egregious of those abuses was the committee’s unconstitutional decision years later, which as chair of the Rules Committee then I had tried to prevent, to investigate a sitting President. Under the Constitution, Congress cannot investigate the President unless he has already been impeached.

To abolish the committee, Senate Majority Leader Cayetano, as Rules committee chair, will have to move the appropriate motion on the Floor, if the body so desires. But Cayetano is one of those who are gravely misusing the committee for their own ends. And Senate President Franklin Drilon will not risk the displeasure of Malacañang and its attack dogs by suggesting that the committee be now scrapped.

So it might prove easier to shut down the Senate instead. A revolutionary government or a new Constitution would be needed to physically abolish the Senate. But simply by complying with the order of the Supreme Court to prosecute all those who had misused the PDAF and the DAP, and sending to jail the great majority of the senators who had taken a bribe to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 and who had misused the pork barrel system in any number of ways, a patriotic band of lawyers could effectively shut down the Senate.

This would put the majority of the senators in jail, leaving only five or so in office, not enough to constitute a quorum and do business. Without the Senate, the House of Representatives would itself be unable to operate, assuming the majority of the congressmen have not bunked in with their Senate colleagues. So the bicameral Congress will be out until new members are elected, assuming the Constitution remains unchanged. That, however, could change.

The Senate could disappear in a unicameral parliamentary government, or under a more radical system that would do away with Congress, and instead allow the provincial governors and city mayors to sit as a legislative body for sixty days or so once a year to enact the General Appropriations Act and some badly needed laws.

This radical reform would make the government considerably much smaller, and save the taxpayers billions of pesos which they have been wasting on a do-nothing Congress whose members, with a few notable exceptions, have made looting their principal expertise. It is one reform whose time has come, but don’t look at it as a stand-alone proposition. Look at it rather as a necessary component of, and principal support for, regime and systems change, which is what the country truly and urgently needs.

fstatad@gmail.com

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16 Comments

  1. Its hard to disagree with this but how practical is it? You have to bring in the military and how are you going to convince them? And even if you do you still cannot get away from the all pervasive American factor who will most certainly send the marines under the usual guise of democracy and freedom to abort this experiment with reformation as it will mean the loss of their most compliant client state in this region. The most practical approach is to follow the wisdom of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and that is to bring the full force of those who are on the side of genuine reform to bear on this regime’s achilles heel and center of gravity, their ELECTION CHEATING MACHINE. Isn’t that a lot simpler than this hard way that you are suggesting? We are in this situation because it is our karma for putting a mean spirited ordinary housewife in charge in 1986 and therefore we have no choice but to suffer while waiting for this karma to grind itself out. Instead of a a hard push the way of heaven is calling for a full blown assault on this achilles heel by way of legal and civil action, the works, with same effort we put behind a presidential campaign. There may be a time for your revolution, except that its time has not yet come.

  2. 80% of all Filipinos said they want the VP to attend the senate hearing, everywhere you go, the topic is about the alleged graft and corruption of VP Binay, in the radio, in the tv, in the print media, it is always the No. 1 topic for the past three months. Dapat nga everyday yung senate BRC hearing, sabi nga mga repakols, prang bitin, prang may marami pang pasasabugin na expose sina Trillanes at Mercado, mas maganda nga na may hearing, at least educational hindi tulad ng mga gasgas na telonovela. By the way, Mr. Tatad, obvious naman kung sino pinapanigan mu, if you really respect the Senate, dapat pagsabihan mu si Nancy Binay, na resign na lang siya sa senado, di naman niya at ang tatay niya nirerespeto ang institutosyon na kinabibilangan niya

  3. Vicente Penetrante on

    The Senate investigation against VP Binay will go on until the approval of the 2015 budget with its “errata.” After that, Congress may call for an impeachment and it will be “happy days” again for the senator judges and participating representatives.

  4. This is an excellent article. The nation would be better off in disbanding the Senate and the House. Having the Governors and Mayors sit as Congress once a year to approve the budget and pass laws is a good idea. That would move us away from this “elite” controlled Congress and save money.

  5. I have a lot of problems listening to you ramble on. You say a lot of these senators are more guilty than corona whom they ousted. Well rightly so he was a chief jusctice with ill gotten money in his bank account to almost P180,000,000. You speak so lightly of it & its like you are saying they are guilty ( but have never been accused of anything ) but he is not guilty yet we all saw his defence when he went on the stand. The supreme court chief jusctice did not present one single shred of evidence to show that money was his & was all legal . All he did was ramble on for 2 hourse telling us how thrifty he & his wife were & that they worked hard all their lives & saved & invested. UIts so simple dont tell us that show us the evidence that is the case, but he didnt because he was guilty & had no evidence to prove his innocence. Now are you also trying to tell me in your day no senator was dipping his greedy little fingers into the pie, if you are i dont believe you. Corruption hasnt just started today or yesterday its ingrained in filipine culture. Why didnt you in your day catch the thieves in your government why, you never mention anything about that. Im glad they are investigating binay & i want every single senator investigated as most if not all are guilty in one way or another as thats why people in the philippines go into government. Not to serve their country but to serve themselves.

    • Corona was impeached for non inclusion in his saln of some of his dollar account. He was not accused of ill gotten wealth. He has reason not to include because it is a co-mingled fund. In accounting, there is what we called off balance sheet, money or asset not owned by company can either be included or not.

    • Tumpak yan kabayan. Marami sa kanila kahit na buking na eh ngdedeny pa eh makakapal kasi mga mukha. Wala silang awa sa mga kababayan natin na nghihikahos sa buhay. Bakit hindi inumpisahan ni Tatad yan nung panahon ni Marcos eh ang tagal niyang naging tuta ni Marcos at Imelda na ang pagnanakaw nila eh nasa Guinness Book of Records at ang nakalagay eh The Greatest Thief of all times. Walang nagwagwag ang buntot nung panahon ni Marcos na hindi nakinabang kaya ang mga ito eh gutom at naiinggit ngayon dahil wala silang kita. Dapat tayong mga Pilipino eh hindi titigil hanggat me natitirang politico na magnanakaw kesyo kung sino man ang kakampi nila. Ang malungkot lang nito eh marami sa kabayan natin na dapat i-expose yung katiwalian eh pinagtatanggol pa dahil sila mismo eh nakikinabang.

    • unless, i was sleeping i did not hear that corona was charged with ill gotten wealth or are you just assuming that the undeclared monies in the saln are all ill gotten? thus the queen of the bir is charging him with tax evasion.

  6. Sen. Tatad: I agree with your idea to make provincial governors and city mayors as members of Congress. This would be practical and cost efficient. But we have to upgrade the qualifications for provincial governors and city mayors. They must at least be college graduates and civil service eligibles. If we demand our clerks to be civil service eligibles then we have more reason to demand our elective officials to be same.Thank you, Senator.

  7. Jose A. Oliveros on

    After reading this column of former Senator Kit Tatad, I am once again reminder of the quip of American humorist-columnist Art Buchwald that when he learned that Rome had a Senate, he was not surprised at all that Rome fell. Another quip whose originator I can no longer recall is the chaplain of the US Senate concludes his invocation sotto voce with these words: “And God save the United States of America.” Then murmurs: “and also from the United States Senate.”

    But seriously, how I wish somebody would do what Oliver Cromwell did to the Rump English Parliament.

  8. i completely agree with you kit tatad to abolish congress especially the senate. the present crop of lawmakers are not fit to called lawmakers. they are mostly bullies pretending to be honorable. your suggestion for the governors to do the approval of the budget is worth thinking about. bakit hindi na rin sila ang gawing lawmakers? after all they really are the true representatives of the people.

  9. That is good — that wherever you have gone, everyone is talking about the Senate. That means Pinoys of Pinas are interested and paying attention to the World-Class-Parking kurakot allegations against Bise Binay.
    And now, many people are surprised that Bise Binay cancelled the debate with Senator Trillaness. Many of my high school and college classmates wanted the debate because we knew, Trillanes will say ” I accuse!!!” and we wanted to hear Bise Binay present his counterpoints. And now, Bise is saying this super-bogus palusot that he won’t debate because “….mas magaling akong mag-debate, ayokong mapahiya si Senador!” Patuloy, Bise is nag-tatago.

  10. Sonny Dela Cruz on

    Unicameral Parliamentary System of government is not going to work because, it is not in the culture of the Filipino people. We are not Englishmen, Japanese, Canadians and other countries that has the brain to debate in the Parliament for the good of the country. We are Filipinos tainted with corruptions, very few remains to help for a better Philippines. Federal System of government is more in the culture of the Filipinos because we were in the Tribal system before. Federal system is the decentralization of all branches, dept. & agencies of the government, local & national. Create a dept. call Dept. of Social Services to feed the hungry, decent housing for the poor and free education for the children. The Government should start to invest in the people, especially molding the children to a strong citizenship and follow the rule of laws. The older one cannot be molded anymore because most of them are tainted with corruptions and love for money & power but not for the good of everyone and the country. Whatever your comments in this article should say a solution to help everyone for a better Philippines. Amen.

  11. Roldan Guerrero on

    Koko Pimentel according to what I learned, is a BAR Topnotcher. REALLY? how come? What he is doing shows his ignorance of the law. Government licensure exams in the Philippines are known to be accorded through certain amount of price, such that there is a bidding process. Did you buy your topnotch zeal Mr. Pimentel?