By trying to turn Congress into a tool for treason and the dismemberment of our Republic, the Bangsamoro project is paradoxically serving as an emergency call for congress to look at itself in the mirror and stanch its prolonged institutional decline.
Slowly but surely, many legislators are starting to realize that they are being conscripted for a Frankenstein project by the president.
Incompetent though he may be, President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd has had a profound impact on the nation’s legislature and has dominated more seasoned and better-educated congressional leaders.
Under Aquino’s battering, Congress has lost its traditional role as the linchpin of our constitutional system.
Treating Congress with contempt
You would think that having earned his rudimentary political education in Congress (in serving two terms in the House of Representatives and one term in the Senate), Aquino would be more respectful of the institution, eager to turn it into an ally or partner of his administration. But instead, he has treated it with contempt and has thoroughly corrupted Congress.
Aquino acceded to office in 2010 with no majority to speak of in either house of Congress. But to his surprise, members of the Senate and the House were awed by his electoral triumph, and were eager to defer to him.
In the House, Feliciano Belmonte, lusting for the speakership, cobbled together a congressional majority to support the president and his own bid to be speaker. In the Senate, the numerically superior independent and opposition forces, led by senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, banded together and offered their cooperation and support, in exchange for presidential blessing on their leadership of the chamber.
In short order, Aquino exacted his price for the opportunistic and transactional arrangement. He demanded the passage of the Reproductive Health Law because of a $600-million package the US promised him. He ordered the House to impeach the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. After the lady yielded without a fight, Aquino went for bigger prey. He ordered the two houses of Congress to impeach the sitting Chief Justice Renato Corona – the House by producing the articles of impeachment and the Senate by trying and convicting him.
To ensure success in the legislative mill, he greased it by increasing the congresssional pork barrel by 400 percent. And then to clinch it all, he created (with the assistance of Budget Secretarty Florencio Abad) the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and used it to bribe senators to convict Corona.
Not even two Supreme Court decisions declaring as illegal and unconstitutional the pork barrel and DAP could deter Aquino from his lawless bent.
Aquino’s Frankenstein legacy
Now, Aquino is turning to Congress to exact an even bigger price – this time, the passage of a Bangsamoro basic law that would create a Muslim state within the Philippine Republic and national territory.
He seeks from Congress a law that would create a Bangsamoro parliament to rival Congress itself.
In the agreements he has signed with the MILF, he has unilaterally granted to the rebel group the key elements for statehood.
The madness of the enterprise is mind-blowing, but this is exactly what Aquino is feverishly trying to build, seal and deliver in his final year in the presidency.
This Frankenstein creation – Franken-state, as I prefer to call it — will be his legacy.
The laboratory for the monstrous creation was the peace process and peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF). Chief peace negotiator Miriam Ferrer and peace adviser Teresita Deles led the talks with Mohagher Iqbal who represented the MILF – and were totally outclassed.
In short order, the peace process produced a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which committed the Aquino government to work for the passage in Congress of a law creating a Bangsamoro autonomous government.
Congress sank under Aquino
Aquino and the MILF seek passage of the BBL in complete confidence that Congress does not have the spine and integrity to resist Aquino’s demands and proffered loot.
Leadership of both houses has never been weaker than it is today.
Tony Lopez of Biz-news Asia called Congress ‘the biggest criminal syndicate in the country,” and neither house bothered to respond.
Where legislators used to have Pride in their institution, there is now a weary skepticism and resignation.
Legislators see themselves as field lieutenants in the president’s yellow army, far more than they identitfy themselves as members of a separate and independent branch of government.
It is no coincidence that congressional self-esteem has sunk to its lowest point after five years of the Aquino presidency. It is no accident that legislators were easily manipulated and fooled by Butch Abad with his new schemes for extracting public funds to bribe Congress.
Aquino is banking on Congress being incorrigibly corrupt to ram the BBL through the legislative mill.
Congress today does not study with care the initiatives of the administration. It shies away from criticism of presidential performance. The sclerosis of Belmonte’s leadership of the House and Drilon’s pork-addled leadership of the Senate have combined to produce a legislature that is too lazy to do its work.
The exertions of Trillanes in crucifying vice-president Binay are not proof of vitality, but a symptom of decline.
Between harsh realities and false hopes
Aquino’s Franken-state project strikes at the heart of the malaise afflicting Congress. It challenges our legislators to do the right thing, instead of taking the easy way out.
It forces a choice between confronting the harsh realities of a separate Moro sub-state and the false hopes of peace in Mindanao.
The timing of the challenge for Congress could not be more critical, because today there is no strong sense of an independent legislative authority. There is a pervasive sense of Congress being a subsidiary body to the presidency. Weakness and subservience are much more pronounced today than in previous administrations.
The problem posed by the franken-state is elemental. Congress has nowhere to hide. It must choose: approve this lunatic scheme or become irrelevant.
To find the right answer, Congress must turn to the ways of deliberation and debate. It must return to the core value that political ends do not justify legislative means. And there is no substitute to legislative statesmanship in making good law and public policy.