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The Long View

Why the House is angry

Someone should really put together one of those low-skill matrices of which the President’s people are so fond. You could even use crayons so it’s colorful and water-resistant. The interesting thing would be that the matrix would basically reveal two bubble gangs: members of the Cabinet on one hand, and members of the Arroyo machine on the other. So, for such notables as Silvestre Bello III, Benjamin Diokno or Mr. Recyclable Isidro Lapeña, what they have in common is that they are the subjects of inquiry on the part of people like the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), which essentially runs the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission; or the House of Representatives, whose majority and minority have united to take down Diokno.

Now what these folks have in common is that they aren’t, on their own, purely the President’s people. Long before the President was under consideration as a vehicle for a Marcos-Estrada-Arroyo restoration, the VACC, to take one example, was firmly in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s orbit. Rolando Andaya Jr., a former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) chief and one of the current deputy speakers, was among the most devoted of the Arroyo lieutenants, just as the official minority leader, Danilo Suarez, has always chimed in when Arroyo’s point of view needed someone to second the emotion.

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And there’s no doubt emotions are running high, starting with Speaker Arroyo herself who is understandably miffed for being accused of parking funds in various places in the budget, when one of the reasons she was able to maneuver her way into the speakership was the manner in which her predecessor had parked even bigger, bulgier funds in the appropriations for favored lieutenants.

(Here, a pause for explanation is required. Shorn of budgetary gobbledegook, the practice in question arguably boils down to what was apparently Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s slothful innovation to outsource patronage. In the past, speakers carefully, and personally, doled out appropriations to loyal supporters while starving oppositionists of funds. What happened under the previous dispensation was that funds were piggy-banked in the appropriations of the speaker’s principal lieutenants, who then had to be approached by their colleagues, to be doled out patronage if they behaved. This freed the speaker of having to attend to everyone, focusing instead on reports from these lieutenants.)

So imagine the outrage in the newly reorganized (on a simple, winning, principle, by all accounts: “There will be something for everyone!”) House. An intolerable state of affairs; someone must pay — Diokno. And anyone else who might get in the way of the ruling majority’s mission to give the Filipino people the government they deserve.

Does this mean that the miffed members of the Arroyo machine now barking for the heads of Diokno, Bello, Lapeña and others are doing so because the three are doing their jobs? Not necessarily. There is such a thing as a blunder worse than a crime, and Diokno seems to lack a fundamental requirement of the job, which is to work with Congress to ensure that the President’s will is done while his majority stays in office.

Let’s not forget that the last time Diokno headed DBM, he seemed useless in keeping the House under control, the result being the first time a speaker decided to act directly against a sitting President. Remember Manuel Villar, who now happens to be presiding over one of the best-oiled parties preparing for not only the midterms but 2022? No coincidence that the House is suddenly filled with investigative zeal about Department of Public Works and Highways contractors. With Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan practically a political capon, and Hugpong ng Pagbabago a prisoner of its own regionalistic shortsightedness (and both, together with the National Unity Party and the Nationalist People’s Coalition in Arroyo’s orbit), the Nacionalista Party stands as the last hope for a party open to the idea of collaboration with the President—and an alternative to the Arroyo machine either in 2019 or 2022.

That leaves the President, who still has his coalition waiting to see whether he will summon the will and the energy to make a pitch for what should be an unbeatable coalition if only it could get organized for 2019. He continues to underwhelm in this score: Over the holidays, the most he managed to do was to attend the party of Francis Tolentino to endorse him. That desiccated coconut known as the Presidential Spokesperson has been left rolling around making husky comments to play for time, which may be contradictory but underscores the only, because self-preserving, message that matters: The ruling coalition may be at each other’s throats, but it’s all their fault, not the President’s.

He is blameless, because you know as I know that he isn’t really running things. So it’s a mess, but it’s not his mess. And the surveys bear this out.

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TAGS: Benjamin Diokno, budget insertions, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Manuel L. Quezon, PACC, pork barrel, Rolando Andaya Jr., The Long View, VACC
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