Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Romy Macalintal’s proposition re “Abolish Congress Movement” ---an idea whose time to be seriously considered has come. On Sept.11 citizens will march---not just to abolish pork barrel, but Congress itself. Did LP really get P500 million from Napoles for 2010 campaign, as Kit Tatad suspects? LP’s silence encourages speculation anew about windfall from Janet in 2013, to envy of UNA.

The “Abolish Congress Movement” (ACM) is gaining traction in mainstream as well as social media and in various citizens’ forums.  It’s a virus that seems to be infecting everything---enervating and mind-boggling.

As columnist Neal Cruz pointed out last Wednesday, the seed of abolition of Congress was planted in people’s minds, ironically, by Senate President Franklin Drilon. One day, out of exasperation at the viciousness of attacks against the “corruption-soaked pork barrel” of Congress, Drilon suddenly snapped, “Let’s just abolish Congress then!” 

Citizens then jumped in and said, “Yeah, let’s.” I recall posting on FB that’s it’s the most profound idea from the veteran legislator in a long time.

Abolishing Congress is an idea born out of unspeakable rage and disgust over the pork barrel scandals---whose length and breadth we still have to see, as COA has only allowed a sneak preview of it in its 2007-2009 special audit report.

Like many other great and inspiring ideas in history, the ACM is an idea whose time to be seriously considered has come. I dare say that this is what many citizens will march to EDSA for on Sept. 11---no longer for the abolition of the pork barrel as in the Aug. 26 Million People March, but for the ABOLITION OF CONGRESS itself. It will be a build-up to the millions whose voice as “people’s initiative” the powers in Malacanang and Congress cannot ignore.


Election Lawyer
Romulo Macalintal
As Neal Cruz relates, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal led a group of citizens at the Kapihan sa Maynila, who stoutly opined that yes, Congress can be abolished by amending the Constitution and simply deleting Article VI, which created the legislature.

Macalintal’s idea is actually only for a six-year suspension, from 2016 to 2022, during which what will function as  legislature would be composed of provincial governors and mayors of highly urbanized cities, who can make laws applicable only to their respective areas of responsibility. If this six-year suspension, which hints of federalism, is found to be beneficial, wrote Neal Cruz, the abolition of Congress would be made permanent.


Doing some pencil-pushing, Macalintal’s group asserted that a six-year suspension of Congress would save the country P211 billion, that will include not only the regular salaries and allowances of senators and representatives and their staff, but also the pork barrel fund and the budgets for various institutions within Congress, such as the powerful Commission on Appointments, the Senate Electoral Tribunal and the House Electoral Tribunal.

Neal offered a favorable comment to Romy’s abolition idea:  in other countries such as China, legislatures hold sessions for only a limited time and when there are enough important laws to be discussed. Because of this limited time lawmakers either have to pass the bills or shelve them, and---most important---they are paid only for work done during their sessions. Unlike in PH where they are paid all year round, even if, as Neal argues, Pacquiao is in boxing training abroad or Senators Bong Revilla or Tito Sotto are filming movies or TV shows.


It boggles the mind indeed what the nation could do with P211 billion in savings. As Macalintal’s group estimates, it can build 180,000 classrooms, buy 7.4 billion kilos of rice (as the price of this commodity shoots up), or construct 400 kms. of standard two-lane roads or a modern mass transport system in traffic-gripped Metro Manila. Or it could fund perhaps the 19 regional cancer hospitals for the poor that Health Secretary Ike Ona wants to put up, or expand a graft-free Tesda in many other regions that would be the basis of an industrialized Philippines.

Of course, pro-abolition advocates have to reckon with how to deal with declaration of martial law, proclamation of treaties with foreign countries or in time of war or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus---all of which Congress has a definite role to play in. But we can leave that to the legal luminaries.


Meanwhile citizens will dream about a country without the epitome of corruption embodied by the “House of Representa-Thieves”  or the “Sena-tong.” But more than dream, we could make it a reality through Charter Change, which is what people’s initiative would cause.

As Macalintal argues in Neal’s column, “If People Power was able to oust two presidents on valid and justified grounds, there is no reason why a temporary closure of Congress cannot be achieved with people airing their very legitimate demand, because of the apparent involvement of a number of legislators in the P10 billion pork barrel scam and for the ineptitude or imprudence committed, or failure by other lawmakers to protect the funds of the public.”


Former Sen. Francisco Tatad wrote in his Standard column yesterday, Sept. 6, about reports alleging that a trusted Aquino campaigner had escorted Janet Napoles “from the so-called ‘Samar (Street)’ campaign group’ to deliver a cash donation of P500 million to then Senator Aquino, the LP presidential candidate.”

Earlier reports circulating in social media had claimed P100 million as Napoles’ donation to the LP kitty in 2010, so that when I read Kit’s column, I thought half a billion pesos seemed quite bloated. But then, given the fabled generosity of this controversial figure, what’s a couple of hundred millions more between friends?


Kit said that this report about the huge campaign donation from Napoles gained currency in his own mind after the series of events from Aug. 28 evening, when the President of the Philippines personally received her in the Palace and later escorted her all the way to Camp Crame in the middle of the night, just to make sure she was out of harm’s way.

To be sure, it was that singular event of the President’s receiving this controversial figure at the Music Room of the Palace no less---which is normally reserved only for the highest foreign dignitaries---that nailed in citizens’ minds an indubitable fact: mukhang may pinagsamahan si P-Noy at  si Napoles.

Other events subsequent to that Music Room reception, such as the way P-Noy’s Cabinet members fell all over to make her comfortable in jail, were mere reinforcements.


New version of pork & beans,
as posted on FB by Isabel Juico

Unfortunately, that “surrender” episode also reinforces popular suspicion that grease from the pork barrel of Congress had also darkened the doorway of presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino---thus making him party as well to this corrupt system of handling public funds.

We don’t know for sure whether P-Noy himself profited directly in terms of enormous PDAFs such as what many of his colleagues received, when he was three-term member of the House representing Tarlac (and became Deputy Speaker at one time) from years 1998 to 2007, and  senator of the Republic from 2007-2010.

COA has released a special audit list on about seven or eight senators and some 180 representatives who had helped themselves to hefty pork in 2007-2009 and then channeled it to questionable or even plainly bogus NGOs---ten of them in the Napoles web.But COA has chosen to be so secretive about how other senators and representatives had performed in years prior to 2007-2009, or later, in 2010-2012---obviously for political reasons. 

COA is now under tremendous fire for training its guns only on the political opposition in the late GMA years.


A former official of the past administration, however, has hinted that then Rep. Noynoy, like many other House members, did cash in on a lot of benefits, especially in the years prior to his mother’s break with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in July 2005. 

It will be recalled that during the 2010 presidential campaign, then Rep. and later Deputy Speaker Boying Remulla, then spokesperson for the Nacionalista Party of rival candidate Manny Villar, had alleged that the Aquino family obtained a windfall for raw Hacienda lands expropriated for SCTEX and got exits for free too.

But the fact that this question of Napoles’ alleged huge contribution to the LP kitty of presidential candidate Noynoy in 2010 has been raised in various media forums---but NEVER ANSWERED by party officials---simply reinforces the belief that the LP had indeed profited from a “beautiful friendship” with Janet Napoles.

Thus, because the query remained unanswered, folks also don’t find it difficult to imagine that in the elections of 2013 Napoles was there again for the LP---to the eternal envy of UNA.

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