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As I See It
Abolish the House, not the Senate

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:03:00 11/24/2008

Filed Under: Government, Politics, Charter change

MANILA, Philippines - It?s cha-cha time again. There are two resolutions choo-chooing through the congressional railroad like express trains proposing to convene Congress into a constituent assembly, or Con-ass (ass, what an apt name) to amend the Constitution. One was authored by Speaker Prospero Nograles which seeks to remove the 60-40 investment ratio provision in the Charter for foreign investors. All the successive Constitutions that we had since Commonwealth days have that provision: that foreign investors can own a maximum of only 40 percent of a company in the Philippines. The majority share of 60 percent should be owned by Filipinos. Nograles wants to remove that so that foreigners can own as much as 100 percent of companies engaged in the exploitation of natural resources such as mining, logging, fishing, fossil fuels exploration, etc. That will encourage foreign investors, said Nograles.

The other resolution, authored, they say, by Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Kampi president, was done in such haste that they forgot to even say what provisions they want to amend. It just went generic, proposing to amend the whole Constitution.

Which is why we should all vigorously oppose a Cha-cha under any pretense. Because they just want to open the Charter to amendments, and bahala na what will come out. But of course among the changes would be term extensions for the President and the congressmen (why else do you think they want a Cha-cha so much?), abolition of term limits, abolition of the family dynasty provision, a shift to a parliamentary system of government, abolition of the Senate, salary increases for top officials, etc., etc.

Even if it is Nograles? resolution that is approved, which purportedly would only abolish the 60-40 provision for foreign investors, we will never know what other amendments the congressmen will introduce once the Constitution is opened, like a Pandora?s box, to amendments. All the amendments mentioned above could be inserted with the secrecy and speed of the C-5 insertion.

They say an extension of the term of President Macapagal-Arroyo is out of the question. Do you believe that, considering that it is congressmen who are saying that?

But even if that were true, there are many ways to skin a cat, as they say. If we shift to a parliamentary system, GMA can run for a seat in Parliament as representative of her district in Pampanga and then, once elected MP, run for the top position of prime minister.

But so can Erap, FVR, Cory Aquino, Eddie Gil and assorted other crackpots, said Nograles. Which will make a parliamentary system infinitely worse than what we have now.

Still, I would be inclined to favor a unicameral legislature on one condition: that it is the House of Representatives, and not the Senate, that is abolished. The senators should be elected nationally, as at present, and not by region, as proposed by some. Because electing them by region or district or province would just be a reprise of the present House of Representatives. Warlords become members of Congress not because of talent or ability or qualifications but because they are able to hoodwink their constituents, or scare them or buy them, to vote for them. Then we would have a Senate that is no different from the present lower house (?lower? is another apt word to describe the House of Representatives because when you become a member of it, you have sunk into the depths of iniquity).

Think of the savings: Billions that are pocketed by congressmen in the form of pork barrel kickbacks, salaries, travel and other allowances that are routinely collected by congressmen can be channeled instead for service to the people.

And while we are at it, we might as well abolish or reduce the members of the provincial boards, city and municipal councilors and barangay officials. They are draining public funds so desperately needed for infrastructure, health and education, agriculture, poverty alleviation, homes for the homeless, etc. Instead the money goes to their pockets in the form of salaries and allowances and kickbacks. And all for what? For nothing. On the contrary, they contribute to corruption and lawlessness. They are the ones that coddle squatters, sidewalk vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers in exchange for their votes.

Look at the provincial board members of Pampanga. Instead of serving their constituents, their energies are wasted in trying to unseat Gov. Ed Panlilio because the latter does not want to give them their share of quarry fees which the previous governors used to give them. They cite other reasons of course for their recall petition, but it is the quarry fees that are the real reason.

But Among Ed is the best thing that has happened to Pampanga. For one, he collected in one month from sand quarrying fees what his predecessors collected in one year. But the board members and mayors are not happy with that because they are not getting their cut that they used to get from the previous governors. I hear that Sen. Lito Lapid, accepting that the Senate is beyond his limited abilities, will run for governor of Pampanga in 2010 and the local officials (but not the Pampanga electorate) are all for it. And when Lapid becomes, God forbid, governor again, the mayors and board members will sing ?Happy Days are Here Again? the same way they did when another Kapampangan, Diosdado Macapagal, was elected President.

* * *

After Senators Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero and Migz Zubiri guested at the Kapihan sa Manila last Nov. 17, I wrote in a subsequent column that Zubiri?s family, after the passage of the biofuels law that he authored, devoted their sugarcane farm in Bukidnon to producing ethanol for fuel. The senator wrote me that they have not done that because it is a conflict of interest for the author of a law to benefit from it. I hope that sets the record straight.

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