Remember the brash macho saying, which drove women up the wall and helped to ignite the feminist movement? It claimed that “when a woman says “No”, she could mean “Yes.”
‘tis said that this bogus wisdom has led to many rapes, the degradation of women, and the rise of sexual harassment as front-page stuff in America.
This chapter in the gender wars comes to mind as I behold the surprising and welcome news from the House of Representatives that its committee on energy has rebuffed President Aquino’s request for emergency powers to deal with a prospective energy shortage during summer next year.
Many are wondering whether this congressional rebuff really means “no”, or could mean “yes”, after a little discussion.
From rape to empowerment
The lesson from sexual politics is apposite here because former senator Joker Arroyo has accused Congress of being raped with consent by President Aquino, on major issues like the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona, when congressmen were bribed by Aquino to impeach and senators to convict.
Equally damning is the widespread perception that Congress today is subservient to the President, and is reluctant to assert its powers as the first branch of government empowered by the Constitution.
The cynical among us worry that the House is just playing hard to get, so that Aquino will give congressmen more pork and DAP funds. Once the Palace gets serious about getting what it wants, “NO” could mutate into “YES.”
In the case of the Senate, with Franklin Drilon presiding, the chamber may not even pretend to say NO.
Even so, the glib assumption that Aquino will always have his way with Congress may be more myth than reality.
A Congress in turmoil and flux
The turmoil caused by the pork barrel scandal and the even more scandalous DAP scam has sent both houses of Congress reeling.
In the subsequent effort to rebound from the mess, the legislature, especially the House, appears to be finding its voice and institutional identity.
There is a conscious effort among the newly elected congressmen and senators to identify the current Congress as the 16th Congress, to differentiate itself from the 15th Congress, which fell into disrepute for lynching a sitting chief justice and bribery.
There are now plenty of signs that Congress is veering away from the President as the terminus of Aquino’s presidency draws closer, and his lameduck status becomes more pronounced.
The rebuff of emergency powers on the power issue may be the clearest sign yet that Congress has not completely forgotten that it is a coequal branch of government, with real powers to check and balance the Executive and the Judiciary. The way the power issue was handled in the House is revealing.
Speculative power shortage falls flat
The administration faced the House energy committee last Monday to present the case for the grant of emergency powers to Aquino, and could not present a convincing brief.
To the surprise of many, the House committee moved quickly to turn down Aquino’s request for the authority to negotiate supply contracts with power producers, after it learned that the projected shortage was merely a thinning of the reserves for two weeks in summer.
The panel, headed by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, said it was more inclined to give the President special powers to implement the Interruptible Load Program (ILP), which encourages large private power consumers to use their own generators when supply is low. He said that the House would strive to approve a joint resolution on the power issue before December 1, but the provision regarding the rental of generator sets would be removed.
The decision was impelled by several notable developments and some startling revelations, namely:
1. The private sector has committed 847 MW under the ILP, with a usable capacity of 593 MW.
Among the companies that expressed willingness to participate in the program are the SM group, Robinsons Land, Ayala Land, Shangri-La, Waltermart, and Ortigas and Megaworld.
2. Remarkably, during the hearing, energy officials presented data showing that the country would only experience a 31MW shortage in 2015. And the shortage would only occur during the first two weeks of April 2015 and not the entire summer season as suggested by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla. The projected shortage will actually be just a thinning of the reserves during two weeks of summer next year.
3. For its part, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) revealed that the anticipated power shortage will only translate to one hour of rotating brownouts on peak hours and only once a week.
4. Finally, energy department officials conceded that there was no need to contract additional generating capacity of 300 megawatts, which would cost P6 billion.
Energy Secretary Petilla, who inexplicably skipped the hearing, appears to be more a promoter of a power shortage, than a manager of the country’s power situation. With no facts to support him, he extravagantly claimed that government may have to address a 300-to-1200 megawatts shortfall in power generation next year to avert a power crisis.
Only President Aquino bought into his thesis that emergency powers for the President are necessary. Nobody in the industry and his department agreed with him.
The man is clearly out of his depth in the energy sector, and the country’s energy situation is far too serious to be entrusted to his inexperienced and untrained hands.
No to Aquino running for second term
The House was even more emphatic in rejecting the idea of a constitutional amendment to enable President Aquino to run for a second term in May 2016.
While some never-say-die allies in the chamber have dutifully floated the idea for Malacañang consumption, most legislators and the public have completely discarded the idea.
Palace spokesmen and propagandists keep up the lie that Aquino will continue to consult his “bosses” on the proposal for him to seek a second term, so he can continue his invisible reforms. In fact, no one has been consulted. It looks like the Palace itself has already given up on the idea of a term extension.
House, the more responsive chamber
When pundits opine that Congress appears to be a broken branch of government, it is the Senate that looks brittle and demoralized.
For perhaps the first time in decades, the House enjoys a higher approval rating than the Senate in the eyes of the public and the business community.
It’s no coincidence that the institutional decline of Congress has taken place during the presidency of Benigno Aquino 3rd..
Although Aquino and the 15th Congress were simultaneously elected to serve in May 2010, the Legislature for some strange reason fell quickly into a position of subordination to the Executive. From the moment Congress bought into Aquino’s program of revenge and scorched earth policy against the opposition, the work and reputation of the Legislature was severely compromised.
Now, there is an urgency in both houses of Congress to make Congress relevant and vital to national life again.
Finally, the eyes of all members of Congress are now turned to the elections in 2016. All are looking for a good horse to ride in the battles of 2016.
It is this Congress in ferment that the President must negotiate with for support in his final and desperate initiatives.