Time to defend our first branch of government


The brazenness with which Janet Lim Napoles and her accomplices have attacked and corrupted the two houses of Congress, and the equanimity with which the public is viewing the spectacle, are profoundly troubling.

What does it say about our people and our values, if our legislature, whose roots date back to the birth of the nation, cannot fend off or subdue an assault on the integrity of its members and its constitutional responsibility?

What does it say of the leadership of both houses, if they can only watch meekly while the scam mastermind bargains for immunity from prosecution with the Department of Justice, at the expense of the honor of Congress and without regard for the necessity of retribution?

What future can we look forward to if this crisis is being driven by presidential ambitions in 2016, and if we cannot apply quickly and confidently a solution to this breach in our democratic defenses?

It’s prudent to ask these questions now because just a few days ago, our neighbor and Asean partner Thailand was cut off from its democratic moorings by a military coup (the 12th since 1932), which unseated the duly elected government and is now agonizing under the strictures of dictatorial rule.

If this can happen to rich and dynamic Thailand, so can it also happen to our punch-drunk country, which continues to stagger from a power-hungry and delusional administration, if we fail to exercise vigilance.

The first branch of government
In every republican system, except for banana republics, the legislature is the first branch of government, supreme in fact in parliamentary republics.

There’s a logical and traditional reason why Congress is usually regarded by political scientists and historians as “the first branch of government.”

In the US Constitution, after which our Constitution is modeled, Congress is empowered and framed in its first article. As one American political science volume asserts: “Its placement there is no accident. The framers wanted it clear that Congress was to be first among equals of the three branches….each branch is given unique powers, with many overlapping, but it is clear, when push comes to shove, that Congress can trump the other two branches by overriding a presidential veto, by changing the size or jurisdiction of the courts, and by impeaching or removing from office presidents and justices alike.”

In our own Constitution, Congress is accorded top billing. It is empowered and framed in article VI, ahead of the executive (Article VII) and the judicial department (Article VIII).

In his informative book on the Constitution, author and Constitutional Commission member Jose N. Nolledo reports with authority (he was present at the creation): “Article VI on the legislative department was placed ahead of the executive department (Article VII) because the legislative department, while co-equal with the executive department, is the repository of the people’s sovereignty and is given more emphasis and significance.”

As repository of the people’s sovereignty, Congress clearly enjoys high constitutional responsibility—as the embodiment of representative government and as lawmaker.

Time of vulnerability
The crisis brought on by the multi-billion pork barrel scandal has come at a time when Philippine democracy is fraying at the edges. As he completes his fourth year in office, President Benigno Aquino 3rd has a halo of doubt hovering over his head, having failed to arrest unemployment and deepening mass poverty, to accelerate the provision of public services and to modernize infrastructure across the archipelago.

His biggest accomplishments, he claims, are (1) placing under prolonged detention his predecessor President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, by filing countless charges against her, most of which have been dismissed in court; (2) removing by impeachment former chief justice Renato Corona, and (3) forcing the resignation of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. This is sick.

Aquino’s use of bribery to remove Corona and Gutierrez and pass controversial legislation in Congress highlighted charges that he reduced Congress to his rubber stamp.

He raised the much-detested pork barrel under his watch by 300 percent.

And there is another controversial fund, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which is under constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.

The detested pork barrel and Congress’ complicity in Aquino’s arbitrary acts of persecution have helped to make Congress heavily unpopular. This explains why many were secretly applauding the embarrassment caused by the exposé of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Esteem for the country’s legislators has traditionally been low. And it plunged to its lowest ever because of their failure to resist bribery and stand up to Aquino.

The administration itself is reeling now from the revelation by Janet Lim Napoles that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad transacted with her and mentored her in the creation of her mind-boggling pork-barrel scam, and that three other cabinet members had coursed their pork allocations through her syndicate. The Palace will take care of its own.

Even so, no institution has been more hard hit by the Napoles affidavit than Congress and its two houses. And no one has suffered more damage to their reputations than the senators and representatives who got lopsided rebates from their pork allocations.

Both the Napoles larceny and her confession (for confession her affidavit is) have hit the legislature like a typhoon. Congress leaders and members are grasping at straws to defend themselves, and are desperately seeking ideas on how, like the Yolanda-ravaged regions, they can rehabilitate their houses and their reputations.

Of the two most affected branches of government—the executive and the legislature—I am more concerned about the lasting impact of this scandal on Congress. It is more vital to the stability of the nation.

If Napoles and corrupt legislators have irreparably damaged this branch, the Republic will suffer. Vital questions –like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB)—await the responsible action and deliberation of Congress. If it cannot get back on its feet quickly, the nation will face severe storms and stresses in the next two years , before the election of a new Congress and a new president.

These questions go down to the question of fitness for leadership of our nation, and fitness to serve in Congress.

Graft in the use of public funds should never be tolerated, and must be fully meted just punishment.

It is fortunate that this crime against the people has been exposed and the media has been unsparing in bringing it out.

The case and cases have to be brought to a just conclusion—wherein honesty and truth can prevail.

We should be very concerned that Napolesgate does not degrade the legislature to the extent of making it ineffective and ineffectual. Already, some say that demoralization is creeping in the ranks.

This is a time for dynamic and creative leadership of both houses of Congress.

Sclerotic leadership will not do the job. Our legislators must seriously consider a change.



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  1. mabuti nga at nalantad na ang mga tunay na kulay ng mga senatong at tongressman….

  2. Even back in the 1970s people knew what was going on, at least in Manila,
    but people were afraid to talk since it was martial law.

    So what’s the big deal, the only thing different is that it is now an open discussion.

    And this is why many hard working filipinos chose to immigrate to more stable western countries, instead of risking ending up in jail or even dead for speaking up.

    And what has changed since the 1970s ?, is a question to be answered by the next generation.

  3. Daniel B. Laurente on

    Maski saan mo tingnan na angulo…the society itself is corrupt.
    Overhaul the educational system to embed righteousness and good moral standing in all aspect of their existence among graduates especially those wanting to serve in the government include those highly commercialized private education system where the mindset of graduates is to get back the huge spent sum on their tuition fees.. Pero mahirap ito na task. Kung baga sa makina hindi briggs and statton kalaki na gamit ng pumpboat kundi kasing laki ito ng makina ng RMS Titanic. It is a titanic task. Once i have worked in the gov’t, i saw how they made money just only a implemennting unit of government how much more at higher level.

  4. I believe that the senate, specially the Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by T.G. Guingona, did not foresee that their grandstanding about this issue would lead to this situation. It is now like bullets thrown in an open fire exploding in all directions, hitting even those who threw the bullets into the fire. But knowing that these people are politicians and that their constituents are Filipinos, they will surely find ways to a graceful exit and bounce back as if nothing happened.

  5. All these distractions bring us further and further away from the basic safeguards provided to us by the Constitution. Our constitutional framers had the wisdom to include a powerful yet weapon against graft and corruption called the SALN. I see it as God’s gift to the Filipino people. Unfortunately, the crooked legislators and appointive officials in government immediately saw its efficacy which no less than former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban described as “damning” and the late Defense Counsel and former Justice Serafin Cuevas termed as “quicksand”.

    Notice that no one from the accounting or audit professions came to the aid of Corona during his trial. I further predict that no decent professional from these disciplines will even dare defend his SALNs in his forthcoming trials.)

    It seems that the major reason why most government offices restricted the release of their officers’ SALNs to the public (needing each of their personal consent no less), was borne out of fear of being impeached and/or garnished based on what the analyses of their SALNs would reveal and of being jailed as a result of the other cases which will crop up as a result of the discovery of their nefarious activities.

    If these crooks were trembling about the scrutiny of their SALNs before the PDAF scam became public and before they were implicated in it, shouldn’t they be more fearful about any attempt to investigate their SALNs now? Aren’t their best interests yet better served by all this brouhaha over numerous lists, files and colored books by whistle blowers who serve their own agendas by vacillating, flip flopping and grandstanding?

    Every other route is circuitous, expensive and non-conclusive. The SALN route is direct, proven and need not be MORE expensive than any other method. Furthermore, it does not have to be AS EXPENSIVE as the Corona trial at all. We just have to stick to the basic principle that the very SALN which accuses the suspected villain is his very own sworn statement and that the EVIDENCE speaks for itself.

  6. Claro Apolinar on

    Are you hoping, Sir Makabenta, that the likes of Drilon, Enrile, the two Estradas, Revilla, the two Cayetanos, Guingona (the PNoy slavish chair of the Yellow Ribbon Committee), Miriam Santiago, Loren Legarda, et al will suddenly become patriots and pro-people first and self-promoters last?
    And the congressmen and congresswomen?
    That is like hoping for the crows to turn white!
    The only really good people in our Congress are those who dared to remain loyal to the human right to life of the unborn in the womb.

  7. The only way to save the Congress is this: RESIGN ALL AND ELECT NEW NAMES! CHANGE TO PARLIAMENTARIANISM.

  8. I hope every media person will be “on top” of these corruption cases, election time or not….ALWAYS! All these cases should be resolved as fast as possibly can. There should be no let up. Cleansing is urgently needed with no “sacred cow”. It’ll be a case of them against the future of our children; and, them against our democracy. May God bless the Philippines..