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As I See It

Escudero, Fuentebella and Bello at the Kapihan

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Sen. Chiz Escudero will run as an independent senatorial candidate next year, but he is willing to be a guest candidate of both UNA and the Liberal Party. That is what he told the Kapihan sa Manila at Diamond Hotel last Monday. (Representatives Noli Fuentebella and Walden Bello were also guests at that Kapihan.)

“Who am I to refuse the offers of UNA and the LP?” Escudero said. “That would be good for my candidacy.”

UNA spokesperson JV Bautista earlier announced at a media forum that Escudero, along with Sen. Loren Legarda, would be among UNA’s senatorial candidates in the 2013 elections. The LP is also reportedly thinking of including Escudero in its senatorial slate, but it has not yet made a formal announcement. UNA’s move is obviously to take advantage of the popularity of Loren and Chiz, who ranked first and second, respectively, in a recent Pulse Asia poll. The LP also wants Escudero but it seems somebody in the hierarchy is against it. It is believed that it was Escudero’s “NoyBi” endorsement that made Jejomar Binay win over Mar Roxas in the vice presidential race.

Asked about the chances of important measures in the Senate—the Reproductive Health bill, the Sin Tax bill raising taxes on cigarettes and liquor, the Freedom of Information bill, and the bill dividing the province of Camarines Sur—Escudero replied that the first three have been reported out by their respective committees and are scheduled to be voted upon by the plenary. As for the fourth, he said: “Let the people of CamSur decide that in a plebiscite.”

The latter bill is quite controversial, dividing the officials and people of Camarines Sur. Representatives Noli Fuentebella and Luis Villafuerte are the masterminds of the measure. Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte is vehemently against it; he says it is nothing but gerrymandering, to provide politicians their own fiefdoms. That is why, according to rumors, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to urge the passage of the CamSur bill. GMA’s son Dato is the representative of one of CamSur’s districts. Now that she is no longer president, Dato does not have a Chinaman’s chance of winning in next year’s elections, or so speculations say. A new province with no entrenched politicians will give him a chance.

Congressman Fuentebella, also a guest at Monday’s Kapihan, admitted that politics is behind the move to split Camarines Sur. “But it is also politics that is behind the opposition,” he added.

He repeated the usual arguments for the division: big population, big income, big territory (which makes it hard for provincial officials to visit the barangays and efficiently govern the province). But many people in and out of Camarines Sur do not agree. They say the end does not justify the motive, which is nothing but dirty politics, to which I agree.

As I see it, the constitutional provision on population and territory for each district and province is already obsolete and should be amended. Our population was still small when the Constitution was drafted. Our population has now multiplied many times and those provisions should be amended to reflect the present circumstances.

“At the old rate of population and congressional district or province, we will soon have at least 500 congressmen, not counting the party-list congressmen,” said Senator Escudero. He is in favor of amending the constitutional provision on that. Imagine the additional expense to the taxpayers, who will have to pay for each additional representative’s salary and myriad allowances; staff and offices; pork barrel; telephone, water, and electric bills; vehicles; and many other expenses. Each additional representative will collect pork barrel of at least P70 million a year. If it is another province that is created, in addition to the governor, there will be more provincial board members and their respective staffs requiring salaries, allowances, office spaces and furniture, and many other expenses.

Consider the Novaliches district in Quezon City which was split into two recently. Aside from the additional congressman, taxpayers will have to pay the salaries and allowances of 24 (repeat 24) new councilors (each of whom has a P40-million pork barrel) and their staffs, as well as expenses for office spaces and furniture, “epal” signs, the food and drink that they consume and serve to supporters, and other expenses. All of that money is needed to serve the taxpayers in the form of infrastructure, services, protection, etc. But instead of these, the taxes that citizens pay are squandered on public officials who serve only themselves and not the public.

Look at Quezon City: In spite of its claim that it is the richest city in the Philippines, it has many decaying areas full of squatters who have stolen the properties of citizens who pay the taxes that make the city rich. Why doesn’t the city spend some of that money to relocate and build homes for the squatters, and prevent new ones from coming in? Quezon City can be a beautiful city, even without that silly central business district, if only the squatter colonies are removed.

The belief that congressmen and councilors represent their constituents in the legislature is a myth. They don’t. They represent only themselves.

For his part, Congressman Bello has filed a bill making mandatory the teaching of what happened here during martial law. He said the young people do not know anything about it, and even the adults have forgotten much of it.

“We should not forget that dark time so it will not be repeated,” he said.


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