Turncoatism: a bane to checks and balances
Party discipline, political stability and personal self-respect of the reelected and newly elected members of the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress will be tested once again in the furnace of frenzied recruitment by the political lieutenants of presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
The raid, which has begun, is expected and inevitable. The courage to resist by the targeted victims is ideal, but the eventuality of capture is traditional.
Many do not wait to be recruited. They voluntarily apply for inclusion with alacrity in the administration party. It appears that the magnet of a new administration is inordinately insuperable and irresistible.
Will the fear of political marginalization supplant the will of the electorate who voted for representatives presumably following party lines and party platforms? Will the enticement of committee chairmanships rescind the elected representatives’ covenant with the people who voted for them as members of particular political parties? Will self-interest dominate self-respect as shifting partisan loyalties rule the day?
Or will recidivist turncoatism be finally archived and party discipline and loyalty installed as the new political ethics?
Can the dominant Liberal Party with 115 elected representatives, constituting 38.7 percent of the total expected membership of 297 members (238 district representatives and 59 party-list representatives), in the House remain intact as it searches for coalition partners to forge a majority?
If history will repeat itself, convenient turncoatism will alter the party composition of the House, as it did in the aftermath of the 1992 and 2010 presidential elections. This also happened during the premartial law Congresses.
Following the 1992 presidential election, while the LDP (Lakas Demokratikong Pilipino) initially dominated the House membership, it eventually lost the speakership to the Lakas-NUCD candidate of President Fidel Ramos. This was replicated after the 2010 election when the Lakas-NUCD was decimated by the Liberal Party of President Benigno Aquino III.
But does a representative, whether district or party-list, have to defect to or align with the administration party in order to survive and serve the requirements of one’s
A representative does not have to. Defection or political treason is not an honorable option, unless during the electoral campaign, one’s party supported the eventual winner. A representative can remain with one’s party and be part of a majority coalition which is cooperative but not subservient to the new administration. One can also be a member of a responsible minority.
I know of many members of the House who remained steadfast with their political parties but were able not only to survive but to also effectively deliver the projects and programs needed by their respective districts.
A forthright fiscalizer is much more respected and fairly treated by the administration than a spineless cohort.
In the scheme of the Constitution, the political branches—the executive and the legislative—are mandated to check each other in order to foreclose abuse and concentration of power, not to mention the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review over both branches.
The doctrine of checks and balances is exemplified by the following, among others:
- The president prepares and submits the annual national budget to Congress in his or her national expenditure program (NEP), while Congress disposes or approves the general appropriations bill since the power of the purse belongs to Congress, particularly to the House of Representatives, which is the more popularly representative chamber. The NEP is not cast in stone. Congress can realign, alter and modify the suggested allocations provided that the total ceiling as proposed by the president is not exceeded.
- Legislative bills are enacted by Congress but these only become laws if approved by the president or allowed by him or her to lapse into law.
- Congress can override the president’s veto of a legislative measure. Although this has not happened, there is always a first time.
- While the president can suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law under stringent preconditions, Congress in joint session, with the vote of an absolute majority of all its members, can revoke such suspension or declaration—a congressional action that the president cannot set aside. Congress may, in the same manner, upon the initiative of the president, extend such suspension or declaration for a period to be determined by Congress.
These examples underscore the import of constitutional counterpoise. The principle of checks and balances becomes a working reality if Congress remains truly independent of the chief executive. A rubber-stamp Congress that pays obeisance to Malacañang derogates this fundamental doctrine.
Edcel C. Lagman is soon returning to the House of Representatives to represent the first district of Albay in the 17th Congress for a seventh term.
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