Chiz Escudero says it’s essential for the Senate to investigate the pork scam. Several senators have been mentioned in it, and it behooves his favorite institution to clear itself. It should dispel public perception that it’s little more than an “old boys’ club” that would shield its own from probes of wrongdoing.
Alan Peter Cayetano, the new majority leader, disagrees. While a congressional investigation has its uses in ensuring openness and transparency, it also, as in this case, raises a lot of problems. Not least is that it interferes with legislation. “We are dealing with our own members. What if we run out of time and senators and congressmen fight among themselves? We might not pass any piece of legislation.”
Yet another problem, he said, is producing witnesses from the National Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Justice. Some of the senators implicated in the pork scam “have a big influence on them.” That is the carrot. The stick is that it’s the senators and congressmen who approve their budgets and could make them experience diminutions if they should prove dogged or recalcitrant.
There is in fact an alternative to the Senate—and House of Representatives—conducting a hearing on the scam, says Cayetano. “It can be done without the Senate and the House, just the DOJ and the Ombudsman forming a panel that will investigate and allow full and complete media access—Internet, print and broadcast.” The proceedings can be televised. The only time the Senate should get into the act, Cayetano says, is if the NBI investigation should prove unsatisfactory. He himself would call for a Senate hearing if that should happen.
Whom do I side with on this one? Escudero of course. I do think a Senate hearing should be held. And I do think it should be televised.
You grant the hearing gets in the way of legislation, what of it? The point of legislation is to pass laws that benefit the citizens. Using pork on ghost projects does not benefit the citizens, it benefits only ghosts. Or which is but the same thing, it benefits only the senators and congressmen. Why on earth should I trust anyone who has the tendency, or predilection, or instinct to use laws to benefit only himself, or herself, to concoct, manufacture, and propose new laws that will benefit me?
Why in particular should I trust a senator or congressman who has his snout buried in his pork barrel to have anything to do with approving the national budget? If it’s true that they can make life miserable for the people who are in a position to say whether they are crooks or not, that’s suicidal. Or homicidal. That’s entrusting the security of your house to the Akyat Bahay Gang. First, assure the reasonable integrity of the senators and congressmen, then pass laws.
And why should the fear that the senators and congressmen would go for each other’s throats be a fear at all? That’s a fallacy that’s been bandied about for so long it’s time we dumped it. Not all unities are good, not all peace and quiet is good, not all coming together is good. Uniting with wrongdoers is bad, harmonizing with crooks is bad, coming together with a–holes is bad. Burying the hatchet with the Marcoses in the name of reconciliation is bad. Forgiving and forgetting the Arroyos in the name of moving on is bad. Not ferreting out wrongdoing among legislators in the name of carrying out legislation is bad.
Even more than this, I’m all for a Senate hearing on the pork scam because it can draw in tremendous public interest and participation. The true importance of hearings and impeachments, particularly where they are televised, is not just that they ferret out the truth, the truth about the abilities of the people we voted for as much as the truth about the things they are
investigating. Though that is a huge public service enough in itself. It does help to know who the scoundrels are. It does help to put them on the bar of public opinion, quite apart from the legal one. It does help to shame them, as a matter of retribution, if not of justice.
But more than this, televised congressional hearings and impeachments are an education unto themselves. The Erap impeachment, which had the deepest impact on public consciousness, shows just how deep that can be. For the first time, people began talking like lawyers. For the first time, the citizens got to have an appreciation of law, not as lokohan but as an instrument of justice. Unfortunately, Gloria replaced Erap and that education swiftly unraveled, the lessons went for nothing. What lessons may be imparted by a televised hearing of the pork scam can always be conserved, strengthened, and promoted, over the next three years. P-Noy will still be president then.
Particularly today, with the Internet, cellphones, the social media, and other instruments of rapid and mass communication, the prospects for the public weighing in on the hearings multiply tenfold. I repeat my proposition yesterday: Government alone cannot stop corruption, it needs the public to help in it. It needs the outrage of the people to stop it. It needs the fury of the people to stop it. It needs the condemnation of the corrupt by the people to stop it. It needs the people marching in the streets, or its modern equivalent in Facebook, text messages, and blogs, shouting at the top of their voices, “Tama na, sobra na, tigilan na,” to stop it.
Alongside an ardent campaign launched by government or civil society, or both, to make people realize that taxes are their money, that the corrupt are kawatan, no more and no less than pickpockets and snatchers, that corruption is in fact stealing from them, who knows? Maybe that televised hearing can rouse enough public interest and indignation to spark a cultural upheaval. That’s what an education is.
That’s what an education does.