Archive for house of representatives

Noynoy Aquino Did Not Become A Hostaged President

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

Politics is a realm that neither political analysts nor fortune tellers can accurately predict the outcome. The reality is that the outcomes are determined by the interests of the politicians which they hold dearly to themselves as a poker player would his cards. Anlaysts can only do an educated speculation, fortune tellers can only do blind guesses.

Politicians’ interests and game plans may change as the seasons do, depending on the situations during a particular time, or the convenience at that moment. That makes them unpredictable, which is sometimes a necessity in the cut-throat world that they move around in.

I am happy to admit that one analysis I made while in the thick of the campaign of the last national and local elections did not materialize into reality. Yes, I’m happy that it did not materialize. That analysis, which I posted in my blog ( Noynoy Aquino Could Be a Hostaged President ), pictured a scenario where both chambers of the Philippine Congress are dominated by opponents of Aquino, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heading the House of Representatives and Manny Villar leading the Senate.

The basis of that analysis is the fact that both politicians had a good number of allies (at that time, at least) that should have been enough for them to take hold of the helm in their respective chambers. That, combined with the usual expectation for politicians of such stature to crave for the post of top banana and the craving to get back at political opponents, served as the foundation of the analysis.

But to my surprise, neither seemed to have exerted effort not exhibited the desire to make life difficult for the new president. Perhaps the overwhelming mandate and the people’s high trust and confidence in President Aquino was enough to dissuade them. Or they lost their allies to political expediency, each of them characteristically looking out for their own interests. Or, uncharacteristically for politicians, they both lost the desire for power and the need to get back at their rival.

I am thankful to Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sen. Manny Villar for not acting like typical traditional politicians. Ordinarily, one would expect a typical trapo to use the situation to get back at the opponent who defeated him or do everything to use the position to protect herself.

Whatever it is, I am just glad that President Noynoy Aquino enjoys the goodwill and support of both chambers. Both Houses have super majorities that support the President, led by personalities who have expressed cooperation, if not complete support, to the new administration.

Indeed, President Aquino is a blessed man. Not just because he won the Presidency in a relatively easy manner (considering that he decided to run just 5 months before the campaign began), but because as he begins his term of office, he has a high trust rating from his constituency and the support of the two chambers of Congress.

I pray that those around him will not waste this golden opportunity for the Philippines to be great again.

June 4, 2010- A Significant Day in the House of Representatives

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

To the average Filipino on the street, June 4, 2010 was supposed to be just another day that will uneventfully pass just as the previous one and those before it have done in that person’s lifetime. In fact, for most of our countrymen, that day was nothing different from any other day, even including June 12, Independence Day, or July 4, Fil-AM Friendship Day or June 20, Father’s Day. To a big majority of Filipinos, everyday is the same, a day to survive the challenge of day-to-day existence.

But to those who have cared enough to take action for quite a number of years now, June 4 was a special day. It was the day that they had been waiting for since the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was given life by the people’s voice in the plebiscite that institutionalized our country’s charter. It was supposed to be the day that the Freedom of Information Bill, mandated by the Constitution, was to finally become a law that would guarantee the people’s right to know how its government serves its constituents. After more than a decade of lobbying, June 4 was supposed to be Victory Day.

To me, June 4 was of special significance because it is the last session day that I will attend, my last day at work as a legislator. Although my term officially ends on June 30, I still intend to earn my pay by working for the welfare of my constituents until that day. But for me the work done in the committee hearings and plenary sessions is the essence of being a lawmaker.

After nine years as a member of the House of Representatives, I wanted the last day of session to be not just a day that would cap my three terms in routine fashion, but a day that would close with the passage of an important piece of legislation. I was eager to end the day with a vote ratifying the FOI Bill.

For the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, they prepared for this last day. For the first time in the history of the House, they prepared a special program for the closing session to honor the members of the House for the work that they have done in the Chamber. They intended to present to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd term members mementos of their membership in the House and compiled bounds of their legislative performance in a ceremony that certainly necessitated much preparation on their part.

It was just one day, but it had different meanings for different people. Actually, everyday is like that. What may be an insignificant, ordinary day for one is in fact, a special, life-changing or even historical day for some. It really just depends on what point for view we are coming from.

And so it was that June 4, 2010 was a significant day in the House of Representatives. While elsewhere in the country, anniversaries were celebrated, eulogies were being delivered, babies were being born, employees were punching out after their shifts, someone just lost his job…the session hall of Batasang Pambansa, the People’s House, was gradually getting filled with people attending the last session day of the 14th Congress.

The proponents, advocates and supporters of the Freedom of Information Bill filled sections of the gallery wanting to be personally present the minute that the vote of ratification institutionalizes this landmark piece of legislation. Many of them labored long and hard just for the bill to reach this day and they waited with anticipation for the proceedings to begin.

Actually, what was left was just a routine step of the process of passing a bill into law—ratification. The bill had already passed through the three readings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It had also passed through bicameral conference. The Senate had ratified it, so the only thing left was the ratification by the House. Ratification was a simple ayes and nays vote of the House, the members not even required or expected to explain their votes. After that, it could be considered institutionalized as law. But in all its routine nature, it was a special piece of legislation.

The rest of the gallery was filled by employees of the House Secretariat, after having been directed to attend the ceremony to honor the Members of the House. Of course, also in the hall were the usual observers of the proceedings of the House, congressional staff and probably some curious citizens who happened to have time to spare to watch the proceedings.

But what promised to be a “special routine session” turned out to be quite an emotional one, with contrasting sentiments that pulled me in opposite directions.

The Members of the House were more psychologically prepared for the Honor Ceremony in the closing session. I would compare it to the emotions one had during high school graduation, the bittersweet feeling of wanting to move on in life while at the same time hanging on to the memories of good times spent with friends.

The honor that was to be given by the Secretariat also had its significance, since they were the people who served as our backbone during our work in Congress, and they were the ones who can truly make an objective judgment on how each and every congressman performed as a legislator.

Late by almost and hour, the session as finally resumed (it was just suspended in the previous session day) and the motion to ratify the Freedom of Information was immediately made by the Majority Floor Leader. As immediate as the motion was filed, the quorum was also immediately questioned.

Just by looking around the hall, it was difficult to make a judgment if indeed there were enough warm bodies present to constitute a quorum. When I entered the hall, there seemed to be not enough legislators on board. But with Malacanang joining the call for the passage of the bill, I did not expect that there would be a problem in the bill’s ratification. Nevertheless, congressmen began trickling in not long after the session was underway.

The session was suspended in order to resolve the issue that was raised. In this line of work, the adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” sometimes best describes this kind of situation. Many times in the past, when the quorum question is raised during a debate on a very important bill, the issue is settled after a little discussion with the one who raised the question during suspension.

After about thirty minutes of suspension, the session was resumed and the roll was called. Obviously, the quorum question was not resolved so the names of the members of congress were called one by one, with the secretariat staff ticking off the names in their list. At the end of the roll call, the Secretary General reported to the Speaker that 128 members of the House responded to the call. With that, the Speaker declared that with 128 members, there is no quorum and therefore, according to the rules, the House cannot conduct legislative business and would have to adjourn.

As expected, this ruling was met with vehement objections and impassioned pleadings from the proponents and supporters of the bill. Legislators pushing for the bill alternately took the floor questioning the results of the roll call and calling on the speaker to use a particular provision in the rules allowing the House to arrest the members who are absent. Understandably, emotions ran high and a bitter exchange threatened to mar the proceedings.

In the end, the Speaker stood pat in his ruling and adjourned the last session of the 14th Congress. What was intended to be a “special routine closing” and parting of friends now turned into a highly polarized legislative battle among peers. Definitely not what was envisioned as a last day of work for this Congress.

Naturally and rightfully so, those supporting the bill felt betrayed and cheated, and cast judgment on the House for failing to pass such an important measure. As I was doing live tweets of the proceedings over Twitter, I could see the numerous reactions of people online castigating the House most especially the Speaker. All the frustrations were posted and perhaps if not for the facility of the internet, people might have gone out to the streets to vent their anger.

The session had been adjourned but the honor ceremony still had to be undertaken. Actually, many had begun to think that it might not be appropriate anymore to have the ceremony. I felt it would not be taken well by the public who had just been treated to disappointment by the very House that would now give distinction to its members.

After quite a while of lingering, the Deputy Secretary General for Committee Affairs went on the public address system to inform everyone that the leadership of the House had decided to forego the honor ceremony, in deference to what the public might construe as the congressmen giving themselves a pat on the back after the emotional, divisive and controversial adjournment.

Her voice was cracking and straining under what seems to be a failed effort to hide her emotions. Clearly, she was distressed with what was happening. She went on to say that although the House leadership already made that decision, they in the Secretariat tried to convince the leadership to proceed with the ceremony. After all, she said, this ceremony, the first time held in the House’s colorful history, was initiated and prepared by the Secretariat to give due honor and recognition to the members of the House whom they had worked with on many important accomplishments of the institution. She pointed out that being first hand spectators to the performance of the legislators, they would like to proceed with the presentation of mementos and plaques of appreciation.

Indeed, while there are many highlighted occasions that the House had not displayed the righteousness that the people expect and deserve, there are many more unnoticed moments of low profile accomplishments that only the secretariat were witnesses to. They wanted to give due recognition to these accomplishments by way of the honor ceremony.

And so it was that under the contemptuous glare of the public, the House proceeded to honor its members. It basically consisted calling out the 1st-term, 2nd-term and 3rd-term members of the House in front of the hall and presenting them with plaques of appreciation and book-bound volumes of each legislator’s performance record (bills filed, laws passed, speeches delivered and transcripts of interpellations) and a CD version of the same. For the graduating congressmen, a Congressional medal was also presented in honor of completing the whole three terms in the House.

For me, it was a well appreciated gesture on the part of the Secretariat. What they presented was a symbol of the acknowledgment of the work I had done these past nine years. The mementos and volumes they gave me were things that I can present to other people to show that the mandate given to me by my constituents were not wasted and this was incontrovertible proof that I had earned the pay that people granted me the privilege to receive.

Indeed June 4 seemed to be an ordinary day. For some, it was. For others, it was a day that the House of Representatives failed the people. For me, it was the final day of a special period in my life when I had the privilege of being able to directly contribute to the welfare of this nation. Sad to say though, that by this final act of the House, the last thing in the people’s mind would be that the 14th Congress betrayed them.

The Lone Ranger Cha-Cha in the House

Posted in Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

The passage of House Resolution 1109 proposing to amend the Constitution is another blow to the already tarnished reputation of the House of Represenatives. It is appalling that the leadership ignored the sentiments of the people which reject moves to amend the constitution at this time. It gives the House the image that it is callous to public opinion and will only give due attention to matters that pertain to its members’ personal and political agenda.

It is also deplorable that in the undue rush to pass the resolution, the House leadership chose to deny members of the House their right to express their positions on such an important measure. The untimely motion to end the debates aborted the interpellation of congressmen who were already lined up to ask questions. At one point, one congressman who rose to ask a parliamentary inquiry was simply ignored, as if the presiding officer was blind and deaf.

I myself was not spared, when I indicated my desire to explain my objection to the motion to approve the resolution. I was denied the right with the threat of simply being ignored like my other colleague.

The “Lone Ranger” Cha-Cha , where the Senate is likewise ignored by the House of Representatives convening itself as a Constituent Assembly, is immoral and smacks of political arrogance in that it practically ignores public opinion, legal advice and processes and institutional courtesy.

The haste with which it was calendared and forced to a vote exemplifies the House’s distorted sense of priorities, with the Cha-Cha resolution edging out important and urgent measures such as the Agrarian Reform Bill. It goes to show that if the leadership really wants a measure passed, it can do so, in contrast to other measures which languished in the legislative mill without meriting the leadership’s attention.

Finally, the viva voce vote on such a significant measure clouded any semblance of transparency, denying the people the knowledge of how their representatives voted on the resolution to amend the constitution. As a result, accountability for their votes is nil, allowing the members of the House to hide under the cloak of anonymity.

Although drowned out by the majority “yes” votes, my “no” vote is one that I will hold myself accountable to, and am proud to say is reflective of my constituents’ sentiments on the matter.

The Opening of the 2nd Regular Session of the 14th Congress

Posted in Governance, Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

At ten o’clock this Morning, July 28, 2008, the Second Regular Session of the 14th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines was simultaneously opened in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Much of the public discussion regarding today’s even is focused on the President’s State of the Nation Address, or SONA. A choral competition of criticisms and praises has preceded the SONA, which I think is like putting the cart before the horse. I’d rather comment after I hear what the President has to say.

But today’s main event is actually the opening of the Second Regular Session of Congress. The President’s SONA is a consequence of the opening, and she is a guest at the House of the People. The significance of the opening of the session is that the Filipino People, through their elected representatives, are going to exercise their sovereignty and determine the how they are going to be governed through the laws and other measures that will be produced by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

For me as a legislator, the opening of session is the marching order for me to fulfill the duty vested in me by the constituency who voted for me and the Constitution which governs my actions as a public official.

Soon after our session as convened this morning, the Speaker of the House, Prospero Nograles, delivered his opening address to the members of the House. It was his first address during an Opening of Regular Session since he assumed office some time February of this year, therefore I was eagerly anticipating what he was going to say.

I am one who puts premium to word of honor, and give value to what I and other people say. As public officials, the words that come out of our mouths should be held against us, under the principle of accountability. No rhetorics or double talk, just plain truth and commitment.

I appreciated Speaker Nograles’ address. He was quite clear with regard to the direction that the House should undertake within a prescribed time frame. He imposed on the House specific, enumerated measures that he would like congressmen to work on and pass by the end of 2008.

There is nothing more desirable in a leader than getting clear and concise directions. At least everyone is tuned to the same objectives and the progress is measurable because of the time frame given.

If there’s one thing that I can say about Speaker Nograles during his first few months in office, he is a man who is decisive and takes accountability for his words. One of the examples of this trait was his handling of one of the controversial bills before the House of Representatives. During an executive session tackling the matter (the proceedings of which I can’t disclose because of the rules on executive sessions), he gave everyone a chance to state their cases for or against, but when a consensus could not be arrived at by the body, he made the decision and assumed responsibility for that decision.

He did not struggle with double talk, evasive rhetorics and hide behind the curtain of Congress being a deliberative and collective body. When push came to shove, he showed he had the guts to exercise his leadership role.

So as he was enumerating the targets of the House of Representatives, it allayed any doubt as to where the Second Regular Session will take us. At least the course is charted and the timelines drawn.

But what gave me a fresh hope for the House is the Speaker’s statement that the House of Representatives will assert its role of oversight. In the recent past, Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, became a lame duck in the attack against its independence and duty to oversee the workings of the Executive Department. When Executive Order 464 undermined Congress’ role of oversight, the House of Representatives meekly succumbed to the challenge, not raising as much as a whimper to counter that issuance which was abused by Executive Department officials in order to evade and avoid speaking in congressional inquiries.

With the Speaker’s assertion of this congressional duty and right, I was given a reason to be optimistic that there may be a chance for genuine reform in the House and in government.

After the Speaker’s speech and the opening session ceremonies, we adjourned in order to prepare for the afternoon’s Special Joint Session of Congress to hear the President’s SONA. For sure, the media will highlight the impromptu fashion show, owing to the fact that many who attend the SONA dress up for the occasion. Then it will be followed by the courtside commentaries on the President’s speech.

I hope that in the wake of all the glamour and glitter, the pomp and circumstance, and all the brouhaha of this event, the Filipino People will receive the appropriate attention they deserve, and that us public officials, we in government will be able to deliver the goods to an already suffering constituency.

The problem called Quorum

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on June 5, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

The House of Representatives is currently laboring to pass the bill extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law which is set to expire this month. The bill has been certified urgent by the President, which should be taken as a marching order to her allies in the Legislature to enact the measure.

In fact, aside from the certification which is an official act, more personal efforts were taken to ensure the cooperation of congressmen. Last Tuesday, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office individually reminded congressmen to attend sessions and stay until its passage. Likewise, the Office of Speaker Prospero Nograles sent text messages to the Members of the House, urging them to be present during session and not leave until debates are concluded and a vote is taken.

It is not the first time that such persuasion was used on congressmen. The Anti-Terror Bill, the R-VAT Bill, and many others were passed with the same kind of prodding from the Office of the President and the Office of the Speaker of the House. While other bills languish in suspended animation, there bills which enjoy the active support of the leadership, to which members of the majority are all too willing to accommodate.

But of course, the passage of a bill depends on the presence of a quorum, that magic number that allows the House of Representatives to conduct business. The rule is No Quorum, No Session.

In the leadership change effected several months ago, one of the major criticisms against the former leadership was the persistent problem of attendance during sessions. Somehow, the Speaker of the House was made accountable for the failure of congressmen to attend sessions. It became a battlecry for those calling for change in the House leadership.

So with the President’s certification of the bill and the leadership change still fresh in the House, it was expected that the CARP extension bill would not encounter difficulties in passing. Although debates have been going on for almost three weeks owing to some lengthy interpellations by a few congressmen, it seemed that yesterday was going to be the last day for debates. There were several congressmen lined up to ask questions, including myself, but the intention was to go overtime if needed, just so that the bill would come to a vote.

We have also done that many times, conducting marathon sessions stretching one day to the next, just to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and yet have the bill voted on as soon as possible.

At first it seemed that the congressmen were going to maintain the pace and close the deliberation of the bill and finally vote. But as the night wore on and the debates became longer, the numbers began thinning. At around 8:00 PM, one congressman from the administration coalition suddenly stood up and questioned the quorum.

It was obvious then that there were not enough numbers of congressmen in session. The proceedings were suspended and the quorum bell rang, calling all congressmen to proceed to the hall. Proponents of the bill tried to convince the member who questioned the quorum to reconsider his position. But he stood firm, and eventually the session had to be adjourned.

Hundreds of farmers and other interest groups were there to witness the workings of Congress. They were hoping that the House would pass the bill, which would benefit them and other farmers all over the country. These past few weeks, they had even resorted to various tactics and gimmicks to convince congressmen to maintain quorum and vote on the bill. One time, they handed out sachets of 3 in 1 coffee, with a note that said “Walang Tulugan! Ipasa ang CARP Extension!”

But yesterday, that would not be so. The House of Representatives bowed to the congressional illness known as Lack of Quorum.

I wondered why this was so. The head of the administration coalition already signified her desire to have the bill passed. Why weren’t her allies in congress accommodating this desire?

The reformists already had achieved change in the House, on a platform of reforming the House and improving attendance. Why are they putting the Speaker that they put into the leadership of the House in an embarrassing situation? It appears that the same headaches that inflicted the former Speaker is now hounding the present Speaker.

What is evident here is that reforming the House of Representatives does not rely on who the Speaker is, but more on the sincere desire of the entire membership of the House to reform themselves and the political will to act on those desires. The House of Representatives is a collegial body composed of 238 members, each with equal standing. The Speaker is the primus inter pares, the First Among Equals, meaning that while he heads the chamber, he really does not enjoy command over every congressman. Ultimately, each congressman is responsible for himself and at the same time, the institution where he belongs.

Unless each member reforms himself/herself, there will never be reform in the institution.

Another thing that is evident is that while there exists a political party system where the party stand is expected to be upheld by its members, when the individual interests come into play, party interests or even national interests take the backseat. There are reports that the delay in the passage of the bill is due to the protection of personal interests by certain personalities.

Perhaps that’s a reality of Philippine politics. The question now is, do we simply accept it or do we change it?

The House of Representatives Must Make a Stand

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on February 12, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

Privilege Speech I Delivered during the Plenary Session of February 12, 2008

Mr. Speaker,

When a person seeks protection, human nature dictates that he will seek protection and refuge from those whom he trusts with his life, those who can guarantee him that he doesn’t have to keep looking behind him, fearful of an attack from behind, or he can go wherever he wants without anyone blocking his path and stopping him in his tracks. He seeks to distance himself from those who may have the desire to inflict bodily harm or, as somebody said, prematurely cause his respiratory system to cease functioning.

When in the company of strangers especially during a time when you feel you are under threat, fear is understandably your overwhelming emotion, to the point where you will do anything just to escape that dreaded feeling and physical condition.

This is what Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada experienced last week.

As he was coming home from a trip abroad, he felt there was a need to seek sanctuary and therefore arranged that he be met at the airport by the people he trusted most in his life—his family. It is but natural for people to put their family on the top of their most trusted list. After all, his siblings and his wife will undoubtedly be the people least likely to harm him. After a sudden, unplanned trip abroad, it would have been a welcome relief for him to be back home in the safe and loving arms of his family.

It is no wonder then that when he was met by unidentified men he initially refused to go with them and instead insisted that he first meet with his family who were waiting just beyond the immigration counters, along with a team of the Senate Sergeant at Arms. But in spite of his protestations, he was herded away from his family, even taking an evasive maneuver by going to the Departure Area then taking an elevator down to the tarmac.

The way Lozada was intercepted and picked up at the airport goes against regular procedures in the airport. It is a circumvention of security and administrative procedures, procedures that even members of the House of Representatives are not immune from. The breach of airport protocols and procedures that transpired was brazen enough to come after the Philippines was downgraded by the Federal Aviation Authority for its security lapses.

Mr. Lozada has already testified under oath that he did not arrange to be fetched from the airport in the said manner. He said he was surprised at the appearance of men meeting him just outside the door of the aircraft, since he was expecting that it will be his family who will pick him up.

Mr. Lozada said that he did not know the persons who fetched him. He further said that he did not know where he was being taken and thoughts of the Bubby Dacer abduction and killing entered his mind when, after going around parts of Metro Manila, they reached Cavite.

Although his cell phone was not taken away from him, he was instructed not to use it, along with a warning that his phone conversations were being intercepted.

To simplify it, Mr. Lozada did not feel comfortable in the company of the men who picked him up from the airport. First, his arrangement was for his family to pick him up. Second, unidentified men picked him up and brought him to places that he did not intend to go. Third,

his private communications was being monitored. He was forced into a situation which he did not desire to be in.

Those involved in this caper to take him out of the radar screen tried to explain the whole incident as simply a mission to place Mr. Lozada in their protection. But the testimony of the person who is supposed to be protected, Mr. Lozada, reveals that it was more than just a mission to protect. It was a mission to isolate Mr. Lozada even from members of his own family, which was contrary to his desire.

The circumstances makes it a forced disappearance, although temporary.

In a democracy the we love so much, there is no room for such practice, especially if perpetrated by agents of government. And this is not just limited to the act of physically isolating a person by means of force or aggressive persuasion, but tolerance of the practice makes one equally guilty as the one who forces another person to disappear.

It is in this light that I stand today to bring this matter to the attention of this House. We cannot simply stand in silence and be an observer as agents of government trample on another Filipino’s rights, violate established rules and procedures of government and try to get away with it with a conspiracy of stories riddled with inconsistencies.

As an institution that is supposed to be the People’s bastion of representation, it is incumbent upon this House to act on such incursions into the people’s rights, and the disregard for government’s own rules and procedures.

Do not get me wrong. I am not asking this House to conduct its own investigation into the revelations of Mr. Lozada about the ZTE Broadband Deal. The Senate’s investigation is already colorful and animated as it is, so I think there is no need for us to put up our own show.

But I do think that we cannot sit idly and be silent spectators to what is already obvious as blunders by government agencies. To do so would be a contradiction to the spoken desire of this House for change and reform. A new leadership was overwhelmingly put into place by the members of this House and the mandate given was for the reform of the House and the rehabilitation of its image.

The sagging image of the House was repeatedly cited as one of the reasons for change. Before us now is the golden opportunity for us to show the people that indeed, we have changed. It is the opportunity for us to show the people that we will not tolerate wrongdoing and that we stand for their interests, not ours.

The least we can do is to have a position on the matter as an institution, not as individuals. We must express outrage, at the most, or concern, at the least, about the way that Mr. Lozada was spirited away against his wishes and kept incommunicado from the world and his family.

If the people will see that their House of Representatives will stand up for the rights of Mr. Lozada, it will surely give them hope that if ever the strong arm of government comes crashing down on them, they have an institution that they can rely on. An institution that upholds the people’s interests far above its own, an institution that has a will, conviction and principles of its own, an institution that will not hesitate to defend what is right and condemn what is wrong.

The plight of the Filipino people is summed up in one of the exchanges between a senator and the Chief of the Philippine National Police during the hearing in the Senate. The senator asked, “Kanino ba magsusumbong ang isang tao na natatakot sa pulis?”. The Chief of the PNP said, “Sa pulis din.”

One could actually taste the sense of futility and desperation of the people who heard that.

Many times we have heard horror stories of agents of government abusing the rights of the people. Where will the people turn to? Is it any comfort for us to hear that the people might not even think of the House of Representatives as an institution that they can turn to? We all know and acknowledge that the House has a not so ideal image as far as the public is concerned.

But as I said, this is a golden opportunity for us to redeem our image. Let us stand and be heard by those concerned. Let it be known that the House of Representatives represents the interest of the people. Let it be known that we can cross the lines of partisan politics and stand together for what is right and stand against what is wrong.

Mr. Lozada and his family has emphatically said that what transpired was against their desire and will. Of course, the PNP Chief and some other government officials deny it. They have given many explanations although the doubt still lingers. But who is the best person to say whether an abduction was committed than the person who was abducted? Of course the PNP will say otherwise, because to agree to it would be to admit a wrong doing on their part. What it boils down to is that their explanations are but a defense to the accusations against them.

Again, I reiterate that I am not calling for an investigation by the House of Representatives. There is already an ongoing investigation in the Senate and we do not need to confuse the people with our own inquiry into the matter.

What this representation is seeking is a statement by the House as an institution expressing its concern over the matter of government agents going against established procedures and taking into their custody a person against his will.

I shall file a resolution expressing that sense of the House of Representatives and enjoin the members of this House to support the same. Let this not be a matter of administration or opposition, majority or minority, or first term, second term or third term. Let this be a matter that will unite us on what is for the people and what is against the people.

Thank you very much.


The Vote for the Speaker of the House

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on February 5, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

Last night (up to the early hours of the following day), the House of Representatives voted to remove Speaker Jose De Venecia from the post he has held an unprecedented five times. His removal was a whirlwind affair, happening just four session days after the resumption of session following the Christmas break of Congress.

After De Venecia’s son, Joey, exposed the alleged bribery in the ZTE Broadband Project, which, Joey alleged, involved the President’s husband, there was talk about his removal late last year, although it did not happen. Rumors had it that the ouster would be effected upon the resumption after Christmas. Indeed, it was fueled when Presidential son Cong. Mikey Arroyo filed a leave of absence from the Lakas Party this January.

A few days before the session resumed, both sides, the pro- and anti-JDV camps, conducted meetings one after the other. Some congressmen gave commitments early while some attended meetings on both sides. Signatures on manifestos were gathered, and there are even reports of congressmen signing on manifestos from both sides.

Both sides claimed they had the numbers and for a time, it was seen as a bluffing game. But it became clearer after the majority caucus held in Malacanang. It was a make or break caucus for JDV, where he was expecting (probably more accurately, hoping) that the President would step in and advise everyone to uphold the status quo.

According to information I gathered, the President instead tried to craft a set of procedures on how the showdown would happen, which was seen by others as the final nail on the coffin of JDV’s Speakership. On its face, it is a neutral act, but Congressmen saw it as a withdrawal of support from JDV and a blessing to the initiative of her sons to oust the Speaker.

After the adjournment of that caucus, word already spread out among congressmen about the position of the president and as expected, tides began to turn in favor of Cong. Prospero Nograles. The two camps held meetings after the caucus, the JDV camp in Rembrandt Hotel and the Nograles camp in Luk Foo, a Chinese restaturant near Congress.

There, the numbers and warm bodies were finally seen. At around 3:30 PM, thirty minutes before session was to begin, there were 47 congressmen in Rembrandt and 123 in Luk Foo. 121 votes were needed to oust De Venecia.

Jose De Venecia’s fate was sealed.

Where did I stand in all this?

When the initiative to oust JDV and the counter-moves against it began to heat up, I began to carefully and thorughly review the position I would have to take. I would have to consider my personal conviction and conscience, the position of my party, the effect of all this on the House of Representatives as an institution, the views of my constituents and the impact on my district.

But instead of attending the meetings that were called by both sides, I decided to isolate myself from those meetings. There were talks of financial consideration being offered to congressmen to take sides. I didn’t want my decision to be tainted by that, whether it was true or not. The fact is, talk was going around, and it is enough to stain the integrity of one’s decision if one is linked to it.

I consulted with my partymates as to what position the party will take. I believe that political parties should be strenghthened and one way to do that is to uphold party principles and discipline.

But in the end, I did not follow the party stand. My party decided to support the ouster of Speaker De Venecia.

President Manuel L. Quezon in the past said, “my loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins”. It is an admired often-quoted statement, seen as the height of patriotism and idealism. But with all due respect to the late President and his admirers, I have a contrary view. The statement connotes that the political party comes first, before the country. It is my firm belief that the country should come first before the political party. That the first consideration is the interest of the country before the interest of the party.

So for me, my loyalty to the country goes above my loyalty to the party. That before considering the interests of the party, it take full consideration of the interests of the country.

It is my belief that the stand my party took was against what my convictions told me was for the good of the country.

I believed that the ouster move was not motivated by a desire for change and reform in the House. It was never a secret that the primary movers of this move were the two sons of the President, who were hurt by the testimony of JDV’s son Joey against their father regarding the ZTE scandal.

In the House, congressmen complain about JDV’s tendency to make promises and not make good on them, but there wasn’t any drive to remove him from office because of this. Issues about transparency in the House expenses were raised, but nobody ever really made a move to scrutinize them. During the budget deliberations, where the golden opportunity to ask questions about the House budget is there for everyone to take, no one grabbed it. The Commission on Audit annual report on House expenses is always ready for anyone interested to go over and review.

Some have said that the Speaker was responsible for the plummeting ratings and deplorable image of the House. But the House of Representatives is a collective body. The Speaker is said to be only the First Among Equals. The image of the House is the responsibility not only of the SPeaker but by all congressmen as individuals and the entire House as an institution. Even if we have a Speaker with impeccable character, if a majority of congressmen still abuse their power, act arrogantly in their distrcits, involve themselves in questionable deals and transactions and perform their duties poorly, the House will remain a house of ill repute. It can be redeemed through extra spending in publicity and public relations, but those will never reform the House.

I have due respect and admiration for him as a colleague, but Cong. Nograles couldn’t have made it on his own. As the current head of the House contingent on the Commission on Appointments during this Congress, he is often not in the House, understandably because of his duties as head of the contingent. For the past months of the 14th Congress, he was concentrated on his duty instead of campaigning for change and reform in the House. Besides, going for the Speakership involves the mobilizing resources which I don’t think he has on his own. It had to take someone else with more clout and resources to organize and convince the congressmen to support him.

For me to be inspired to follow a particular leader, I must first see what prospects he has to offer in terms of service, advocacy, and in this case, the program for reform and change. As I said, there was never a campaign for reform and change. When I say campaign, it is not enough to say “I want reform” or “I want change”. To advocate for reform and change, one must specify what specifically you want to reform and change, how you are going to go about that change, the exact change you are going to do and the expected results of that change. In that way, your progress or success is measurable and quantifiable. That is accountability.

But there was no such presentation. While meetings were held with the different parties and groups, for me, it is not transparent and accountable. For example, they may have met with the Liberal Party and presented their plans, but who knows what commitments were made? Who knows if what was committed to the Liberal Party was different from what was committed to the Nacionalista Party? Or the NPC?

Most of all, how will the Filipino people know what commitments were made? The Speakership is not just about who will preside over the sessions of the House or who adminsters the affairs of the House. It is about the fourth highest leader of the land, the person who will steer the policy-making body of this country and ensure that the right and necessasry laws are passed. The Filipino people have the right to know how that person intends to perform his duty as Speaker fo the House. Ask yourself–have you heard what Congressman Nograles plans to do to reform the House?

In my explanation of vote I said I wished there was more time for the contenders to present their platforms. Not just to us congressmen but also to the people. After all, after I vote, I would have to let my constituents understand why i voted that way. It would have been better if they heard directly from those vying for the position to make their commitments public so that if a time comes that we have to remove him, people will understand why.

This is one reason why people think that this leadership issue in the house is all about a power grab, political vendetta or maneuvering. Because when Speaker De Venecia was elected, the people did not know what commitments he made in order to win the seat. So when congressmen claim that they want change and reform, the people do not know what they mean. To make the same mistake with a new Speaker is not change and reform. It is more of the same.

It turns out that the primary motivation is for JDV to be “punished” for the “sins” of his son. But the Bible says “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16). It is true in the matters of faith. It is also applicable in the world of politics. In the case of JDV, he had been a faithful and loyal ally of the President, rushing to her rescue during her most troubled times. He was instrumental in her rise to power and crucial in retaining it. When his son started to speak against his ally, JDV tried to control the situation.

But Joey is a man of his own and appears to be a man of conviction. Just as I would stand up for my convictions even against the advice of my father. That’s how convictions are supposed to be—solid as a rock (just make sure that your convictions are in the right place). Even the Arroyo brothers exhibited that. They claim that their actions are their own not affected by their mother’s position on the matter.

I don’t think the Speakership is the appropriate arena for the meting out of this “punishment” of Cong. De Venecia. The House should be an independent institution, whose affairs are determined by the members themselves, in the interest of the performance of their duties. Joey De Venecia’s behavior has nothing to do with the House so the House members should not be dragged into the fray.

Some congressmen say that their decision is their own and not on the influence or say-so of anyone else. But the explanations of their votes reveal the what’s behind the decision. Several times explanations tell of their decisions being “to protect the interests of my district” or “to ensure the continuance of projects in my district”. Why the seeming fear of projects in their district being affected? The Speaker has nothing to do with projects in their district. The Speaker’s role is to be the administrator of the House of Representatives and not the implementation or release of funds in the congressional districts. That’s the role of the Executive Department headed by the President. Why do they fear? Is there a threat to their projects?

Some congressmen voted to remove JDV “with a heavy heart”. That means that their decision does not conform to their desires and conscience. Becuase if a decision you make is in accordance to your convictions and conscience, you would be at peace. That’s the effect of making the right decision…it will not bother you. So if it’s not their own decision, whose is it?

I voted against the motion to remove JDV because I felt that the one contending his post did not have enough time to present his program of reform and change. He was not able to present make a commitment to the public, something that is essential to accountability. The House was rushed into a vote.

In addition to that, I believed that we were doing it for the wrong motivation. It wasn’t a compelling drive for reform in the House of Representatives (although I must admit we need to reform the House). It so happened that this particular initiative was driven by a desire to get back at JDV for his son’s decisions.

I went against my party stand because I felt that it’s decision to support the move was against the convictions I had. There are other reasons which are best reserved for meetings within the Liberal Party.

In this realm of politics, it is sometimes difficult to say who is right or who is wrong. Everyone can come up with their own justifications for their actions. All it takes is a creative mind and skillful writing. But in the end, the benchmark for a right or wrong decision is a clear conscience. If you can live with your decision without feeling a “heavy heart” or fear of reprisal or contrary comment, then you must have made the right decision. Your next accountability will be to God, if your decision conforms to His Will. After all, “everyone shall be put to death for their own sin”.