(Last of Four Parts)
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/30 January) – Pacquaio is facing his acid test in Congress: First, how well on the way is he in rounding the square peg that he is to fit into the round hole that is Congress? How is he living up to the great expectation cast around him.
Midway into the three-year 15th Congress, what has he done to gauge his acid test?
The bills he has authored – five on official record, seven in media reports – are still in the committees. This is an eloquent testimony to his half-time attendance in Congress and his ability to lobby among his colleagues and speak for his bills. These bills would not move from the committees through the plenary sessions without the author ably shepherding them. Does he really have the 100 percent support of Congress?
Sports Journalist Ronnie Nathanielz (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 12, 2011: Incompetence surrounds Pacquiao) wondered aloud why Pacquiao announced in Mexican television after his fantastic welcome that he would run for vice president in the 2016 elections. That was ill-advised; his advisers incompetent. Under the Philippine Constitution he would not qualify in age by 2016.
In two articles in Asian Corresponent.com, General Santos City Journalist Edwin Espejo wrote about the incompetent advice Pacquiao had been receiving from his congressional staff. [Espejo has written much about Pacquiao. His “Pacquiao Watch” column has, from time to time, been published in MindaNews.—ppd]
In “Pacquiao Watch” Redefining priorities” (February 9, 2011), Espejo said Pacquiao’s staff failed to advise him of the impracticality of his hospital project. The government can provide the P250 million to build the 100-room hospital complete with basic facilities; but the P80 million or more operating cost will strain the P400-million annual budget of the province. Upgrading the facilities of the existing hospitals in Kiamba and Glan could be the more practical.
In “Pacquiao politics: Reality bytes and bites” (May 27, 2011), Espejo noted the failure of Pacquiao to get the proper briefing on the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill from his staff before “his bold attempt to interpellate the bill’s principal author, the veteran lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman” — echoing the critical comments in other media reports.
While not in the list of interpellators, he requested to interpellate Lagman on May 18 after meeting the Catholic bishops. He had been away for his fight vs. Shane Mosley on May 13. Overall, from media reports of May 18 and 19, 2011, Pacquiao looked silly.
He said he read the RH Bill on the night before. Some, however, wondered if what he had read was HB 4244, the consolidated copy. If he did, he failed to discuss the controversial provisions with his staff and he was not briefed of what had transpired during the plenary sessions in his absence.
He had prepared questions; but he appeared clueless. Some of his questions had been asked and answered in earlier interpellations; or they were on policies not in RH Bill and provisions that the authors of the bill had already agreed to amend. He even cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in support of a moot question on constitutionality and misquoted the Bible. He suggested an alternative law to solve poverty — a problem that Lagman said is also covered by HB 4244.
At one point, Lagman must have been at the end of his patience when Pacquiao posed a question on “freedom of informed choice”: “Amended na ang provision na ito. Hindi mo ata narinig dahil nag-eensayo ka para sa laban mo. Incomplete ang impormasyong ibinigay sa iyo.” (This provision has been amended. Perhaps, you did hear of it since you were training for your fight. You have been given incomplete information.)
Pacquiao could have reframed his questions or posed follow-ups. There should be points to clarify in previous interpellatory answers. But obviously, his poor command of either English or Pilipino and his inadequate knowledge of HB 4244 muted his capability to explore issues and raise questions from different premises.
As a comic relief, pro-RH Bill Rep. Milagros Magsaysay appealed for understanding of Pacquiao as a neophyte lawmaker – giving him “A” for his efforts and guts to speak in the plenary. She granted that he repeated questions already asked for the people who had not heard earlier interpellations; because of his popularity more Filipinos listened to his interpellation of Lagman.
That much Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao has done to gauge the future of his political ambition.
Many, if not most of the members of the House and the Senate entered Congress riding on the “Filipino” in Philippine politics. Membership in Congress is hereditary. Not only families but clans predominate in both Houses in the same terms. Only “idols” like Pacquiao and movie stars could dislodge political dynasties.
The privilege to be absent from Congress that Speaker Belmonte granted Pacquiao while training for his fights showed the tendency of congressional leadership to compromise with vested interests, in and out of Congress, the interests of the people and the country. During elections, candidates ask the electorate for mandate to represent the people; on winning the congressmen only represent themselves and the vested interests they are committed to support. The laws and the state of the country prove the truth.
The privilege granted to Pacquiao benefits the boxer. While that may not be laudable, it could have earned kudos for the Speaker and the entire House from majority of Filipinos – tens of millions of rabid Paquiao fans — who may not really care what Pacquiao the congressman does in Congress. They will not siege the House if HB 02379 dies in the Committee. Flattered as he is, Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao is not that influential. The privilege cannot be used to advance vested political and economic interests.
But look at how influential members of Congress decades back to 1935 have used their privilege. Look at how they and their vested interest allies exploited our forests feeding the fund-hungry government with morsels — fees and excise taxes — while keeping the bulk to build their business empires and political dynasties to protect their ever expanding vested interests. What did the people get? Floods, landslides, drought, etc.! They passed forest protection and conservation laws that, if meant to be, were not implemented.
Congress has passed laws protecting indigenous people in their ancestral domain but, irony of ironies, it also has passed laws granting forest, ranching and mining concessions to take away from the indigenous people their ancestral domain. The same irony bedevils laws and proclamations protecting watershed and the so-called protected areas.
These are just examples. A full account would require volumes.
This is unjust. Can it be reversed? That’s asking for a miracle under a government rooted in the rule of law based on the Constitution. Congress enacts enabling laws subject to the interpretation of the Court on questions of constitutionality. The Executive implements the laws. If laws are stacked in favor of vested interests, the rule of law will be in favor of vested interests. Election laws favor vested interests. How can lawmakers be elected to reverse the unjust rule of law?
How many neophyte congressmen, like Pacquiao, on entering the House promised to change the unjust social and economic conditions of their people? What and where are they now? Pacquiao promised to make a difference for the people of Sarangani. Speaker Belmonte praised him for that and assured him of 100 percent support from Congress.
Whether Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao succeeds or fails to make a difference the extreme popularity of Manny Pacquiao the super boxer will momentarily spotlight Congress. Beyond that we can only hope for a miracle to eventually divest Congress of interests in conflict with the true interests of the people and country. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)