COMMENT: New but nothing new. By Patricio P. Diaz

Gabriela Party-List Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan of Davao City and Liza Maza of Quezon City, along with 33 others, should be commended for their stand against the overwhelming odds – 174 YES-votes – in symbolic opposition to the wishes of the Palace. Such an opposition is as old as Noah, no matter how self-satisfying.

They say their vote was “an assertion of Congress’ independence from Malacañang”. That they assumed. But assumption does not make up the truth. Even if the NO-votes had prevailed, the House – not the entire Congress – would have stayed under the control of President Arroyo, for she had long controlled de Venecia.

Speaker Nograles now wears the same leash long worn by Speaker de Venecia, who was kicked out for having sorely displeased his mistress – not lapping enough to sooth her itches.

Old Adage

The pathetic fall of de Venecia is a reminder of an old adage, “Never cuddle a poisonous snake.”

In his farewell speech, de Venecia related how he had cuddled Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to become vice president, to keep the presidency, and to support her bid – though unsuccessful – to amend the Constitution in order to change the system of government from the presidential to the parliamentary. For all these, he got the big boot in return.

In a similar though perhaps lesser vein, de Venecia cuddled so many snakes in the House – of course, ironically, to keep power. He cuddled Nograles, now Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, and all in Lakas-Muslim-Christian Democrat (Lakas-MCD); he cuddled the stalwarts of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) when they were struggling for political survival. In a sense, he cuddled others from parties in his Rainbow Coalition.

Yet, 56 from Lakas and 42 from Kampi led 118 others from the Rainbow Coalition and the Opposition to oust him. But the irony of ungratefulness of cuddled snakes is not new.

Vengeance

De Venecia’s troubles started with the exposé by his son, businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, of the multi-billion peso scandal in the NBN project contracted by the Chinese firm ZTE Corporation. Implicated in the scandal was the First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. The President was forced to cancel the contract.

De Venecia was faulted for not preventing his son from exposing the alleged scandal and, after that, from repeatedly testifying in the Senate hearings. It is an old traditional Filipino concept that parents are responsible for the conduct of their children regardless of age. The offense done by the children is considered an offense by the parents.

In the case of the NBN scandal, Joey implicated the First Gentleman. This offended the Arroyo Family and the father, Speaker Joe, did not only get the blame but was expected to make amends – stop Joey from further taking part in the Senate hearings, or else …. Speaker Joe could not rein his son Joey, already in his 40s and a business executive in his own rights.

So, if Speaker Joe could not rein his son, President Gloria would not stop his two sons Mikey and Dato – both members of the House – from spearheading, together with Kampi leaders, the ouster of Speaker Joe. Thus ran the historic pathetic fall of Speaker Joe. Family politics of tit-for- tat or vengeance is also as old as Noah in the Philippines.

Patronage

De Venecia knew he had fallen from grace. Yet, he sought guarantee from President Arroyo that he would keep the speakership. And he appeared happy and assured by a false assurance, a statement from the President that she wanted the House leadership to remain in status quo. But Kampi and the Arroyo sons were rallying the members of the House to the ouster move.

Why did de Venecia seek Arroyo’s help? Was he not the patron of the members of the House? Is the House not independent from Malacañang under the doctrine of separation of powers? Right! But as dispenser of pork barrel and other favors, the President controls the House members’ political lifeblood.

President Arroyo plays her card well. To the members of the House, she dangles the money bag – do as I wish or else you lose this. To the speaker, do as I please or else you lose your leadership. Thus, Arroyo has tamed de Venecia and the members of the House.

When they explained their votes to declare the speakership vacant, many of the 174 who turned their backs against de Venecia testified that they preferred politics of patronage to the doctrine of separation of powers. With the speaker no longer in good terms with the President he cannot facilitate the release of their pork barrels and secure for them other favors, they said.

That politics of patronage is stronger than the doctrine of separation of powers is not new. That has been so since way, way back to the time of Manuel L. Quezon.

What’s Ahead?

“Mixed reactions greet Nograles’ election,” headlined MindaNews (February 6). Many hailed his election as the first speaker from Mindanao, something new. But many others jeered saying Nograles is “another puppet of GMA”, nothing new.

And those who cheered Nograles’ election are expecting bonanza of development funds for Mindanao. That might be wishing too much. He can do this only with the blessings of the President. That will be nothing new.

They want him to “show his independence from Malacañang”. That’s dreaming for something new. Malacañang picked him. His hold on the speaker’s seat will depend on President Arroyo. How can a dependent become independent by himself?

De Venecia was a two-term speaker under President Ramos and a two-term speaker – he was, when ousted, on the First Session of his third consecutive term — under President Arroyo. He stayed in power this long on his own account. He organized coalitions to give Ramos and Arroyo ruling majorities in the House, thus, propping up their administrations.

De Venecia could be still the speaker had he used his power to keep the House independent of Malacañang. But he put himself and the House at the pleasure of the President. With a “win-win” Ramos, he shared with the President both the power and the bonanza; with a “win-all” Arroyo, he lost all – he must have dropped his guard.

Nograles ascended to the speaker’s chair not by his own power. In fact, he is being closely watched. As the Philippine Daily Inquirer said in its February 8 editorial, the House “elected three speakers: Prospero Nograles, and the Arroyo brothers, Mikey and Dato” — the alter-egos of the President having stronger hold on the members of the House than Nograles.

Is the PDI saying that Speaker Nograles is beholden to the Arroyo sons? To ask, “How long will Nograles wield the gavel?” is nothing new. The House, more than under de Venecia, is under a firmer control of Malacañang.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently 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])

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