Contractor-congressmen – an emerging bloc?

Contractors-congressmen – an emerging bloc?

Columnist Marven V. Ronquillo of the Manila Times observes in his column the emerging bloc in Congress that he calls as the – contractor-congressmen. In fact, according to him, they are all in the House of Representatives and maybe the Senate as well whose number rises after every election. This means that every three years – contractors – are recruited into the Legislative Branch of government that in the end they just meddle in DPWH contracts than craft good laws and sound advocacies. Whose fault will all these be but not the electorate who put them in office as they are best in the know just in what way these contractors – if elected – can help them?

So the debate may very well be between two kinds of activities – contracting projects or crafting laws. Which of these should take higher precedence? Where both can be addressed simultaneously, then, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism can never go wrong. With interests best served – for the project proponent himself on the one end and the project beneficiaries on the other – the people in every legislative district enjoy a better lot with contracts built on the ground than bills or resolutions being discussed in Cloud 9.

Whoever said the voices of their respective constituents are heard through our congressmen – contractors or not? There are to be only two kinds of vote – the vote of the administration and the vote of the opposition in what has been described in the past as a kind of political gangsterism in Congress – the oblique version of the ‘bully in the school yard’. Congress, like it or not, is an Old Boys Club and the dynamics purely Darwinian. When a proposed bill is placed to a vote upon motion by any Member of Congress, the whole legislative mill operates ever so smoothly. So-called resistance game has become a thing of the past. Everything can be railroaded that it leads one to ask on whether indeed – Congress is the bulwark of democracy than a mere rubber stamp of Malacanang and its Skinnerian motive.

Columnists Ronquillo seems right in thinking that in a scheme and scene where public works largely comprise their pork barrel spending aside perhaps from some so-called ‘congressional earmarks’, congressmen, especially those contractors-congressmen stand to benefit under the arrangement. No wonder then, Congress has absolved the blacklisted construction companies perceived to have been involved in rigging or corrupt practices in the administration of World Bank loan packages.

We cannot be more agreed that the new crop of congressmen – them being in the construction business – will be more likely interested in having some direct or indirect hand on public works projects to the extent that they can literally choose their own DPWH District Engineers. It is not far removed that Ronquillo’s suspicion that contracts can be rigged in favor of the companies of contractor-congressmen has some basis in reality. Against this backdrop, the positional view taken by Members of Congress in the World Bank controversy is likewise understandable since such happenstance against their selfish vested interests.

It is hard to believe that the public works secretary embraced the opinion that those already blacklisted by the World Bank can still participate in bids and contracts being administered by the department.

This must bear some connection with the P330 billion stimulus package being floated around by Malacanang to the utter disbelief of Sen. Angara who thought there was actually only about P50 billion that is part of the regular budget appropriation – and not of the nature of a stimulus plan, which is emergency in character. Offhand, this betrays PGMA’s claim that our national economy has been insulated from this global economic crunch. It is not true after all that the effect of a US economic meltdown will not affect RP.

With May 2010 fast approaching and the mood already set on fire, a stimulus plan in the whooping P330 billion only means that projects will be evenly distributed with more of the budget pie to favor pro-GMAs. By necessity, these projects or public works programs will filter down to that segment of the congressional membership whose businesses are in construction business. It seems there will be so much opportunity for everyone as it has been a publicly known fact that corruption siphons off as much as 40% of the actual appropriate funds.

From where I stand, I hate to think that there just might be built “bridges to nowhere”, to use a popular line. As a matter of fact, quite aside from their congressional allocation at some P70 million each on top of all their congressional allowances, congressmen do juice out other programs being administered by the various line departments. To the extent that they can have a hand on how the programs of the Executive Branch shall be administered, it will look like congressmen can have the best of all possible worlds.

It is so because line departments do enjoy their own discretionary funds and these are usually found under the Office of the Secretary of each department. Fact is, every congressman is a lobbyist on how the cabinet secretary must somehow do the spending. This is why every budget call, congressional insertions are being auctioned off.

PRIMER C. PAGUNURAN
UP Diliman, Quezon City Email: nielsky_2003@yahoo.com