One of the most crucial principles underlying our so-called democratic system of government is the distribution of sovereign powers among three coequal branches of government. These three are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of officialdom, as everyone knows. In reality, however, there’s one branch that acts like an octopus, with its tentacles spreading beyond its allowed sphere of governance.
The intention behind the division of powers among the three groupings of public offices, is to empower each branch to act as check and balance against abuses committed by the two other branches. The executive branch can veto laws passed by Congress, and prosecute criminal acts committed by lawmakers. The legislature approves the national budget, and it can impeach the leaders of the other two branches. The judiciary can declare any action by the two other branches as null and void for being violative of the Constitution.
The executive and judicial departments are either superficially unaware of or have become willing accomplices to the usurpation of critical parts of their prerogatives by the legislature. As a result, the check and balance powers against the legislature have been greatly weakened. Examples abound on how the legislature has misappropriated crucial executive and judicial powers.
The biggest usurpation of executive powers committed by Congress has to do with the national budget. The process enshrined in our Constitution is that the executive branch drafts the budget, the legislative branch approves it, and the executive branch does the implementation. But what has been happening is that legislators are the ones who do the entire process of drafting, approval, and implementation. Lawmakers dictate on district engineers of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on the infrastructure projects that will be inserted in the national budget for their districts, and after the budget is approved by Congress itself, legislators implement the projects through contractors of their choice.
Apart from the budget allotments for the payment of our growing national debt and the operational expenses and salaries of the entire government machinery, what remains as discretionary allotments is treated like a pizza pie that’s divided among lawmakers. These pizza pie divisions are the pork barrel of congresspersons. While the Supreme Court has declared the pork barrel system as unconstitutional, it has not only persisted but has even grown by leaps and bounds.
The word from the grapevine, beginning in the Duterte administration, is that it has become normal for district lawmakers to get P1 billion or even more in yearly pork barrel. Anyone can do the math, based on the percentages circulating, on what ends up as “commissions.”
In addition, legislators get quota allotments from the scholarship, financial assistance, and other forms of dole out funds of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Labor and Employment, and other government departments, which they bestow to the recipients of their choice.
Lawmakers have further usurped the power of the executive to appoint key public officials. They “recommend” (with “or else” effect) on positions such as DPWH district engineers, department directors, and even teachers.
With respect to the judiciary, the legislature now functions as a virtual court when it conducts “congressional” investigations, under the excuse of doing so “in aid of legislation.” Any controversy which attracts major media attention (and generates publicity) make legislators scamper to play-act like judges before the camera.
In the past, congressional investigations were largely used to unearth shenanigans inside government, with nongovernmental scandals as the exceptions. Nowadays, the reverse is true. Congressional investigations are largely exercised on nongovernmental incidents. In certain instances, it’s abused to persecute opponents of congresspersons.
Lawmakers have also been meddling in the appointment of judges. Candidates for judicial positions consider as indispensable the endorsement of the lawmakers in the provinces where they seek to be appointed. The word in the grapevine is that a congressperson’s endorsement will make the difference when the president makes the choice among several candidates. Because of this practice, judges owe lifetime debts of gratitude to congresspersons, and we know what that means in exchange.
The cumulative result of all these irregularities is that they define the people’s experience, and gnaw at their faith, in the democratic system. This is the face of democracy in our country. No wonder people yearn for an undemocratic ruler.
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