Philippine Congress Can Pass any Bill it Wants to Become Law: Immoral Ones and Self-Serving

Only rice lands are covered by the land reform law (photo by Agkakabsat International)

Philippine congress shows the ruling class in its membership

If it wanted to, even an immoral bill, the Philippine Congress can pass it. However, there are subjects that Congress will not touch to safeguard the foundations of powers of its members who belong in the ruling class.

The Philippines is a republic that has three branches of government: congress, executive (presidency) and judiciary. Congress legislates bills that turns into law or statute once signed by the president. I bill can be vetoed by the president. However, a veto can be bypassed by two-thirds vote of the members of congress and a bill becomes a law without the signature of the president.

Congress consists of two chambers: House of Representatives whose members are voted upon by the constituents in a voting district, and Senate whose members are voted upon by all voters in the country.

Brief history

The Philippines was colonized by Spain since 1527 to 1898 when Filipinos staged a revolution against Spain. In 1899 to 1902 the Philippines was an independent republic with the Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as president. The Americans forcibly annexed the Philippines in 1902 for use as a jumping board to the vast China market. The Americans granted a commonwealth government in 1935 with a constitution. This country was supposed to gain independence from America on July 4,1946. However, WWII broke out. Japan occupied the Philippines in 1941 up until August 1945. On July 4,1946 the Philippines gained independence from USA with the 1935 commonwealth constitution in effect for the new republic.

First and early congressional acts

The first congressional convention held sessions in Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan in 1899. The first congressional act was the confirmation of Philippine independence as proclaimed earlier by Gen. Aguinaldo in Kawit, Cavite on June 12,1898. The convention also affirmed the presidency of Aguinaldo. In addition it abolished the unity of church and state by one vote, that of delegate Felipe.

In 1948, USA forced the Philippines to amend its constitution to allow Americans to exploit natural resources and engage in retail trade.

Philippine congress promulgated the amendment, called Platt amendment. That is without a constitutional convention, despite opposition from the Filipino people.

In the 1960s, Pres. Diosdado Macapagal proclaimed June 12 as the independence Day of the Philippines eschewing July 4, a copy of the American independence day.

Land reform law

Congress passed the land reform law in the 1960s when Diosdado Macapagal was president. He hailed from Pampanga province that is known as a hotbed of insurgency advocating redistribution of vast tracks of land awarded by the king of Spain to his subalterns. Lands grown to rice, to sugarcane and coconut and fruit trees are heavily tenanted. The land reform law covers only land grown to rice.

Diosdado was billed as the "poor boy from Lubao," that is Lubao, Pampanga. He finished his law degree in the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila sponsored by a philanthropist. He topped the bar examinations, such feat is a usual ticket in politics. He had four children with his first wife. When he was already president he became a widower. He won the heart of a lady who became his second wife. The lady belonged in a landed family. Their daughter is Gloria Macasaet Macapagal, who later on became president of the Philippines and heir to her mother's estate.

The land reform law is considered a landmark legislation for social justice. However, it is not enough to liberate the country from feudalism and free up capital that should go to industrialization. This is what happened in Japan when Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as commander of the occupation of Japan, broke up vast landholdings. It was a way to destroy the power base of war freak Japanese leaders. As a consequence much capital hitherto locked up in land spurred the eventual industrialization of Japan.

The land reform law shows that the owners of land grown to rice are less powerful than those who own sugar lands, and coconut and fruit trees lands. One provision of the law is that the land is to be paid for.

This is its main drawback because not enough funds are allocated by Congress to pay for these lands.

For one thing the rice-lands-only land reform shows the political clout of Macapagal among members of the ruling class. He was not a member but he was a convenient vehicle to pursue class interests. For that, they supported his candidacy for the presidency. However, the land reform law forced them to part ways. In the next election, Macapagal lost to a more enterprising candidate; one who will not pursue land reform further - Ferdinand Marcos.

Marcos knew how to play with the ruling class to the hilt. His family was not a landed one but professionals, his mother having been a teacher. His father dabbled in law and became a politician in Ilocos Norte. During his last term as president (allowed by the 1935 constitution), a constitutional convention met.

He bribed the delegates to draft a constitution that allows him to run for another presidential term Upon his declaration of martial law in the country he put this constitution into effect. Martial law over the country is the same as Marcos dictatorship.

Marcos, during his dictatorship (1972-86), added land reform covering urban areas. This annex to the existing law does not add much to the land coverage of land reform.

If anything, the urban land reform shows the political clout of the owners of coconut and fruit trees lands, and sugar lands with Marcos. If he wanted to install a comprehensive land reform he could have decreed it. Marcos suspended Congress. He ruled by decrees.

Landholdings of the Catholic church

In all these years since the commonwealth era in 1935 up until now, the landholdings of the Catholic church in the Philippines have never been touched by any expropriation or land reform. This is despite the fact that the Catholic church is a foreign corporation owned by the Vatican. And the constitution of the Philippines says that no foreign national or foreign corporation can have landholdings in the country.

This shows that all Congresses of the Philippines have been supine to the Catholic church. They have allowed the Vatican to have a territorial empire in the Philippines.

To argue that the Catholic church can have landholding by virtue of the separation of state and church is hogwash. In the United Kingdom where there is a separation of church and state, the Catholic church is not allowed to have landholdings. When he severed his ties to Rome in 1532, King Henry VIII confiscated all landholdings of the Catholic church.

The Catholic church in China is not allowed to have landholdings. All land belongs to the state.

The only reason for such dispensation in the Philippines is that the Catholic church is perceived as the holder of the Catholic vote. That is, this church spells the fate of a candidate in the election polls. The candidates that it endorses win. The candidates that it censures lose.

Catholic church wants to be over and above Philippine congress. It has shown this posture recently. Last year, Congress passed the Reproductive Health bill that was signed into law by Pres. Aguino III. Immediately, the Catholic church filed with the Supreme Court a move to hold the implementation of law in abeyance. The charge filed by the Catholic church is that the Reproductive Health law is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court issued a restraining order good for four months to hear the case. Up until now the Supreme Court has not come up with a decision. Part of the charge is that this law promotes abortion. One intention of Congress is to have parents properly informed about planning their family. Congress sees that this is one way of coping with the runaway overpopulation that exacerbates poverty.

No doubt the Catholic church has been encouraged to take this posture by the fact that its empire in the Philippines has been left untouched and no tax has been imposed on its for-profit businesses. In a way, the Catholic church is in contention to lead the ruling class.

Congress passed a bill to please the IMF-World Bank

During the term of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos Congress passed a bill to please the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, thus the United States. This created a new Philippine Central Bank that has authority over monetary policy. In effect, the economy of the country is to be determined by the Central Bank of the Philippines. It is governed by a Board of Trustees whose members are appointed by the president. But once appointed they are independent from the president. This Central Bank is the conduit of the IMF and World Bank to control the economy of the Philippines.

This kind of set up is copied from the United States. In 1913 yet, the US created the Federal Reserve Bank as the economic czar of USA. The Fed is actually a private bank that has jurisdiction over the economic affairs of the USA. The US president has no say on the decisions of the Fed. The Fed can increase interest rates at will.

The Central Bank differs from the Fed in that its Board is not composed of private businessmen. However, they have the same function.

Death penalty law

At a time when most countries had abolished the death penalty, Philippine congress passed a bill that was signed into law by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos. At least three convicts had been electrocuted as covered by this law.

Former Pres. Joseph Estrada could qualify for death penalty. A special court had convicted him of a heinous crime - plunder. Before that he was impeached by the House of Representatives that endorsed the case to the Philippine Senate which has jurisdiction to try it. The trial ran into an impasse when members of Senate voted by a margin of one not to open an envelop presented as containing evidence. Of course, the Senate showed that Estrada had a slim majority favoring him. For the impeachment trial by the Senate is largely political, many of the senator-judges are not lawyers.

[In the night of the same day of impasse, opposition forces gathered supporters at EDSA. The following morning the throng marched towards Malacañang Palace, the residence and office of the President. It demanded the resignation of Estrada who left Malacañang signing a letter that has been interpreted as an abandonment of the Presidency. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was vice-president was sworn in as new president. It was a coup since the chief of staff of the armed forces, the secretary of national defense and several cabinet members withdrew their support for Estrada.]

However, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had earlier suspended the death penalty law. To top it all, Pres. Gloria pardoned Joseph Estrada. The pardon is not clear whether Estrada is still qualified to hold public office or run for an elective office. This matter is put in the burner by means of legal silence and by a muted public that lacks savvy in matters of law.

When this matter was raised during a presidential election and Estrada ran again for the presidency, the Commission on Election decided that it is up for the voters to decide. That is, if the voters voted for him in this forthcoming election then he is qualified to run for an elective office. The logic is like that of a horse and a carriage, where the carriage is placed ahead of the horse. In Pilipino language: "nauna ang kalesa sa kabayo." What was clear was that Pres. Gloria had a tight hold on the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The main reason for allowing Estrada to run for the presidency was to split the opposition vote and enhance the chances of Gloria's candidate to win. The opposition vote was split alright. Benigno Simeon Cojuanco Aquino III, an opposition candidate, landed first in the vote count. Estrada, another opposition candidate, landed second. Manny Villar, another opposition candidate, garnered third place. Gloria's candidate took fourth place. The political strategy that ran smack of political polity did not pay off. Aquino III is now president.

If we were to analyze the voter turn out in terms of who liked and disliked the administration, it would be one who liked the administration is to three who disliked it.

When she ran for the presidency after serving the remaining three years of the deposed Estrada, Gloria called over the telephone Comelec commissioner Garcillano (her appointee) asking for the trend. She was furious that she had an edge over the nearest rival by only one million votes. That presidential call is unethical if not illegal, considering that Comelec is a constitutional body thus independent from the presidency. It raised a lot of howl, calling for the resignation of Pres. Gloria who appeared on television to say sorry she made the call.

There was a tape recording of the call. The investigation was political and not overseered by a court. In court, a tape recording is not allowed as an evidence, as phone tapping is illegal. However, the tape recording was admitted even by Pres. Gloria as genuine. The fellow who tapped the phone was identified. The question that was never pursued was who was the mastermind in taping the calls of the President? He must have been untouchable.

That Pres. Gloria was not impeached showed that she held Congress in her hands. Put in proper perspective, members of congress who constitute the ruling class of the Philippines could not see an alternative who would espouse their interests. The vice president then was Noli de Castro who was considered as a political weakling. (His erstwhile job as a news reader in a television station made him popular among the voters). The third in rank qualified to assume the presidency was Senator Franklin Drilon, who was president of the Senate. It turned out that Drilon made some moves to oust Pres. Gloria. Discovery of this plot made Pres. Gloria all the more resolute to stay in power.

Congress passed an immoral bill

During the term of Pres. Joseph Estrada, Philippine Congress passed an immoral bill signed into law by Pres. Estrada. This is the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). This law gives each congressman Php 170 million per year for his pet projects. This fund is under the personal control of the congressman. Likewise, each senator is given Php 200 million per year for his pet projects. Expenditure is under his personal control.

There is no question that this law is legal because it is not a bill of attainder, or ex post facto law. However, it is so outrageously gross. It is like a legalized robbery from the coffers of the nation. Members of Congress capitalized on the fact that no one among them objected to it. They ignored objections from the common people. They rammed this law through the throat of the people.

There was a similar case unearthed by Senator Franklin Drilon (incumbent president of the Senate) among government corporations. He found out that members of the board of directors allocated for themselves salaries and allowances too high to the extent that budget for use to deliver services have been decimated. The defense of the Boards was that they are empowered by law to set their salaries and allowances. After a Senate inquiry into the matter, such salaries and allowances were reduced.

This whooping unaccounted for pork barrel is shot through and through with holes for graft and corruption. It is immoral because it is the first time that such a pork barrel has become a law. It violates moral sensitivities. Even the USA has no version of it. And subsequent congresses never made a move to amend it much less abrogate it.

That is shown by the pork barrel scam now under investigation. Some congressmen and senators are suspected of involvement in this scam.

The modus operandi goes as follows. A public sector asks for financial assistance. The congressman or senator provides assistance through a department. Delivery of services like technological training or of items like fertilizer is contracted out to a non-government organization (NGO). The NGO reports having delivered to beneficiaries who most of the time are fictitious. Names of supposed beneficiaries are copied from the telephone directory, for example, and signatures are affixed by the staff of the NGO. Most of the NGOs involved are fake. To top it all, the congressman or senator gets a commission of 50% from the funds that he released. Some Php 100 billion have been embezzled by this means, according to the Commission on Audit, a constitutional body.

This scam has been going on for several years. It came into light because of infighting inside the NGOs perpetrating it. One of the administrative officers squealed. One of the money baggers has turned a whistle blower implicating two senators. A prime suspect is now in jail.

At the height of protests against PDAF, Pres. Aquino III abolished it. (I am not sure if a presidential fiat can abolish it inasmuch as it is a law passed by congress.) Recently, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that PDAF is unconstitutional. This is a reversal of its earlier decision that PDAF was constitutional.

For one thing, the decision on the unconstitutionality of PDAF shows that the Supreme Court is sensitive to the political and economic malaise of the country. It should now make amends on its erroneous resolutions like the acquittal of the suspects of the Visconde massacre. (I have a Hub on this topic.)

A "normal" and "moral" pork barrel comes out as follows: Suppose constituents in a voting district need a bridge to cross a deep ravine. They relay that need to their congressman. The congressman asks for funds to build a bridge in the floor of the House of Representatives when congress is in session. Other representatives approve of the request for funds which is given an allocation in the national budget for the coming year. If the request for fund were done in 2014, the allocation will be part of the approved budget for 2015. If the allocation were Php 100,000, that will be used by the Department of Public Works to build the bridge.

You see, other members of congress approve of the allocation and the congressman who asked for it has no personal control over it. Official receipts are issued for expenditures. Personnel who deliver services are properly documented, they sign whenever they get salary. If the first allocation were not enough the congressman can request for additional funds in the next budget year. Any savings will revert to the national treasury.

Unity in supplication

It had been shown that Philippine congress passed laws to please a neocolonial power that is the USA. Members of congress see that USA is a prop for their political power. Likewise Congress had passed laws for self interest like limited land reform law and the PDAF.

In addition, Congress has not passed a law to reclaim the vast tracks of land awarded to the Catholic church by the king of Spain. Likewise, it has not passed a law that imposes tax on the for-profit (and not for the furtherance of religion) businesses of the Catholic church.

Politicians breaking anti-dynasty law

Amazingly, Congress passed a law that even its members are breaking. For example, the anti-dynasty law that says persons who are closely related can neither run for nor hold public office. Only one of them can.

In the Senate, we have Senator Allan Peter Cayetano and his sister Senator Pia Cayetano. There is also Senator Jinggoy Estrada and his half brother J.V. Ejercito. Actually Jinggoy was baptized Ejercito but adopted his screen name Estrada for political purposes because he is more famous for it. Their father, the pardoned Joseph Estrada is mayor of Manila. The incumbent vice president is Jejomar Binay. His daughter, Nancy Binay, is a senator. Vice-president Binay’s alibi is that “why deprive the country of capable public officials?” (this is not a direct quote from him).

[Actually Joseph was baptized Joseph Ejercito who adopted "Joseph Estrada" as screen name in the movies. He played hero in the movies with whom the masses had identified. When he ran for mayor of San Juan City, for the senate, for vice president then for the presidency he used "Joseph Estrada." The masses thought his movie roles would translate into real life as president. Jinggoy, Joseph's son with his legal wife, benefits from "Estrada" in the movies and politics. J.V. Ejercito is Joseph's son with another woman.]

There are three Arroyo's in the House of Representatives: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (former president) representing a district in Pampanga province; Mikey Arroyo, a party-list congressman; Datu Arroyo, representing a district in Bikol region. They are mother and sons.

Petty rivalries inside the ruling class

Never has there been any bill passed by Congress that was vetoed or disapproved by the President. This shows that members of Congress and the president belong in the same ruling class. The political parties are only engaged in petty rivalries within the same class. For example, Pres. Gloria as head of the land reform council of the country could have moved for the redistribution of hacienda Luisita to tenants. But she did not even if she and former president Corazon C. Aquino had a rift. At the height of protests over graft and corruption in Gloria's administration, former president Cory called for the resignation of Pres. Gloria.

Pres. Estrada, a maverick entrant to the ruling class (if not a failed hero of misplaced hopes), did not move to redistribute hacienda Luisita either. Instead he turned hacienda Luisita, consisting of 64 square kilometers, into a corporate land reform. Here tenants are given stock shares of the land instead of distribution of the land to them.

In the first place, Pres. Corazon Cojuanco Aquino should have led the redistribution of hacienda Luisita. That was the contention of former press secretary Teodoro Benigno. He said with just one stroke of her pen, Pres. Cory could have instituted true land reform, especially when she was still holding dictatorial powers during the transition from the dictatorship of Marcos. She could have decreed true land reform for all haciendas: rice lands, sugar lands, coconut and fruit trees lands. Over this issue, Benigno said he resigned as press secretary of Pres. Cory.

The Congress that has been reconstituted under the new 1987 constitution has not shown any interest in a comprehensive land reform. This constitution was drafted by a commission composed of 60 delegates picked by Pres. Cory, 8 of whom are direct representatives of the Catholic church. The same constitution is silent and blind about the landholdings of the Catholic church and the taxation of its for-profit businesses.

Of course, Pres. Cory would not place hacienda Luisita under land reform because it is owned by her family. Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a similar case. She could not place under land reform the hacienda owned by the family of her husband.

The present ruling class of the Philippines (including the Catholic church) is the main reason for social injustice, poverty and backwardness of the Philippines today. Party-list members of congress and some mavericks like Manny Pacquiao (also the World Boxing Organization world champion) have no dent on the supremacy of this ruling class. Pacquiao is engulfed by the traditional Philippine politics; he is co-opted by the Catholic church. He has accepted the title "ambassador of the bible," conferred on him, and has been actively playing the role concomitant to it.

If he knew his role as a congressman who does not belong in the ruling class and of the separation of the church and state, he should have filed bills for comprehensive land reform, expropriation of Catholic church landholdings and imposition of tax on its for-profit businesses. That is, even if he knew that these would be defeated in the floor of Congress.

Restructuring society

Only by restructuring the society can the masses leap forward. It now becomes clear that the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship has not resulted in the restructuring of society to usher in prosperity. Instead EDSA I, or People Power, has only succeeded in restoring power to the ruling class.

The ruling class has betrayed the masses who are responsible for People Power.

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2 comments

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

Good article. Corruption is rampant in the Philippines from the Senate down to the mayors, barangay captains, councilors and even the man on the street who cheats on his taxes. However, I think we can either settle for status quo, get everyone who is corrupt (which would lead to a banana republic) or do something now by convicting those with incontrovertible evidence against them. This should lead to laws to prevent future corruption. We also need a good freedom of information act so that any citizen can see where government funds go, regular reports on the status of government projects and the ability to check the actual site of the projects to see if the report matches the project itself. I believe on PNoy has the wherewithal to do this, and hopefully, he does. It will be very, very upsetting if this isn't accomplished within the next two years.


conradofontanilla profile image

conradofontanilla 2 years ago from Philippines Author

grand old lady,

Yes, we make do with reforms, while society prepares for the real restructuring. Thanks for commenting.

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