08:43 PM September 3rd, 2013

By: Neal H. Cruz, September 3rd, 2013 08:43 PM

Reacting to the clamor of the people for the abolition of the corruption-soaked pork barrel, Senate President Franklin Drilon snapped: “Let’s just abolish Congress, then.” Perhaps he thought that the people would be shocked at the thought and go easy on the demand to abolish the hated pork barrel. He thought wrong.

A group of citizens has accepted his challenge. Led by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, the group has drafted a proposal to abolish Congress. It could be done by amending the Constitution and deleting Article VI which creates the legislative department or Congress.

But it would be only for a period of six years, from 2016 to 2022, during which the legislature would be composed of provincial governors and mayors of highly urbanized cities. But they can make laws applicable only to their respective areas of responsibility. If the six-year suspension is found to be beneficial, the abolition of Congress would be made permanent.

Macalintal explained his proposals at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. With him as Kapihan guests were party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz who batted for line item budgeting, and Jose Ladera Santos, former chair of the Komisyon ng Wikang Pambansa, who accused current commission chair Virgilio Almario of tampering with official documents to make it appear that Malacañang has agreed to changing the name “Pilipinas” to “Filipinas.”

As I see it, Macalintal’s proposal is not without merit. Unlike legislative bodies in other countries, the Philippine Congress holds year-long sessions. This puts a strain on taxpayers’ money. Many other countries like China have legislatures that hold sessions only for a limited time. It is only when there are enough important proposed laws to be discussed that the legislature is called to hold sessions. The legislators have a limited time within which to act on the bills. They either pass them or pass them over before the deadline and the legislators are paid only for work done during their sessions.

In the Philippines, members of Congress are paid even when they are absent from congressional sessions, or are on vacation, or traveling abroad, or doing something else not related to their congressional duties—such as, when Sen. Bong Revilla and Sen. Tito Sotto are making movies or television shows, or when Rep. Manny Pacquiao is training for and fighting in boxing bouts—for which they earn so much money. They do not deserve, the salary and allowances—and yes, the pork barrel—that they collect from the Filipino taxpayers.

Macalintal said that during the six-year suspension of Congress, the Philippines will save P211 billion (that’s billions of pesos). That includes not only the regular salaries and allowances of senators and congressmen and their staffs, but also the pork barrel fund, and the budgets for the Commission on Appointments, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.

Imagine what P211 billion in savings can do for the people from whom the money will come from in the first place, in the form of taxes. How many factories can P211 billion establish to provide jobs for our people who have to suffer in other countries in order to support their families here?

Macalintal estimated that P211 billion can build 180,000 classrooms, or buy 7.4 billion kilos of rice, or construct 400 kilometers of standard two-lane roads. P211 billion is almost equivalent to $5 billion which is enough to set up a modern mass transport system of about 100 kilometers in Metro Manila.

Since amending the Constitution may need congressional action, Macalintal urged that the people should start marching on the Senate and the House of Representatives to demand from our legislators for this purpose.

“If People Power was able to oust two presidents on valid and justified grounds, there is no reason why a temporary closure of Congress cannot be achieved with people airing their very legitimate demand because of the apparent involvement of a number of legislators in the P10-billion pork barrel scam and for the ineptitude or imprudence committed, or failure by other lawmakers in protecting the funds of the public,” Macalintal said.

The lawyer also lambasted the Department of Budget and Management for appropriating P125 million in the 2014 budget for the SET when there are no election protests to resolve.

The poll protest of Sen. Koko Pimentel against Sen. Migz Zubiri was resolved by the SET in August 2011. Thus, since September 2011 up to the present, a period of two years, no election contest involving a senator had to be resolved or attended to by the SET.

Of the P125-million annual budget for the SET, P67.6 million is specifically for the “adjudication of electoral contests involving members of the Senate, including administrative support”; P25.9 million for the “filling of unfilled positions”; P4.6 million for “year-end bonus”; P16.7 million for “professional services”; P2.2 million for “per diems”; and P2.2 million for “representation expenses.”

Since the General Appropriations Act (GAA) provides that such a huge portion of the SET budget be specifically allocated for the “adjudication of election protests involving members of the Senate,” a sense of delicadeza should have moved at least one senator or one justice of the Supreme Court to ask for the removal of that allocation from the Senate budget. No one did. Since September 2011 up to the present, have SET members been collecting from that allocation in GAA?

And instead of deleting SET’s budget, the DBM has a higher SET allocation for 2014 when it is clear that there is no election next year.

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