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How powerful Congress is

If Ferdinand Marcos had a Congress in 1972 akin to today’s 17th Congress, he wouldn’t have had to shut it down. He would be secure in the knowledge that it would be a rubber stamp practically stumbling over itself to please him, all in the name of “trust.”

Because that is exactly what the 17th Congress has done. Understand, Reader, that there is no possibility of shutting down the legislature under the 1987 Constitution, which gives Congress more leverage (and presumably more balls)…  Moreover, the 1987 Constitution gives Congress practically as much power as the Chief Executive, because the latter is required to report to the former WHY (the factual basis) he declared martial law (ML). The proclamation of ML, as in Marcos’ 1081, with its whereases and wherefores, is no longer sufficient; the President must follow it up, within 48 hours, with a report to Congress.

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No chance for made-up stories or exaggerations. “Just the facts, ma’am,” to quote a character in a TV series. And Congress, after examining this report, both for accuracy and sufficiency, must decide whether to revoke, allow, or extend the declaration. See how powerful Congress is?

And how did the Congress use that power? You judge.

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Congress did not convene itself in joint session, as required by the Constitution (which requires a joint vote—kind of hard to do without a joint session). The Senate’s excuse: “no compelling reason to revoke the declaration of martial law” in Mindanao. Just like that. The senators apparently read the President’s report, followed by a meeting with the President’s men—in “executive session,” presumably because there were matters of national security involved.

The public was not privy to the discussions, either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives. Now, Reader, how many issues have you heard in Senate and House hearings, so that we could make our own judgments?  And yet this most important of issues did not get heard at all.

But at least the senators had the courage to show how they voted. And just to give you an idea of the logic that was applied, Sen. Miguel Zubiri voted in favor of ML because, he said, “let us finish this [terrorism] menace.” Excuse me, Senator, the Constitution is very clear: ML can be declared only if there is a rebellion or an invasion. Terrorism is not included. There are other responses to terrorism including “calling” the armed forces (it is considered lawless violence).

Our representatives did not even want that. There was no nominal voting where members could defend their stand.  Only shouts of “Aye” and “Nay.” Beautiful. History cannot condemn them if history doesn’t know who voted what.

Why do you think they did not want the public to know how they voted? Because—and I come to this conclusion after talking to a few congressmen and one senator, after hearing the President’s report and his men’s clarifications—it was clear that there was no factual basis for ML.

Only consider:  Was there a rebellion? It was clarified by the President’s men that the whole Marawi thing started when the military went into Marawi in pursuit of the fugitive (from Basilan) Isnilon Hapilon. The Maute Group came to his aid and things escalated from there. How can that be a rebellion?

It was also clarified that the defense secretary, the Armed Forces chief of staff, the top police honcho, who were all with the President in Russia, were not consulted before the President declared ML.  There were even statements, later denied, that ML was not necessary to accomplish their goals.

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And then it also was discovered that a lot of the “facts” in the President’s report to Congress were not accurate—like the takeover of a government hospital (denied by the hospital administrator and the health secretary), the Land Bank branch (denied by its officials), the burning of schools (only one was confirmed).

In other words, Reader, after the executive sessions, Congress should have voted NO to ML. There was not enough factual basis for it.  But its members roared their approval.

They should be charged with dereliction of duty, malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance. Too bad “sipsip” is not a crime.

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TAGS: 17th Congress, 1987 Constitution, congress, Ferdinand Marcos, Get Real, Inquirer Opinion, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law, Solita Collas-Monsod
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