Is Congress extortionist?

Is Congress extortionist?

Is the Commission on Appointment, composed of officers and members from both Senate and House of Representatives, under institutional attack when a whistle-blower claims it extorts P5 million for a confirmation of a cabinet position?

More specifically, is there truth to the claim made by Rep. Herminio Teves that he was asked by a colleague to cough up P5 million in exchange of the confirmation of his son, former Rep. Gary Teves as finance secretary? His expressed willingness to name names at the more appropriate forum called for the purpose apparently lends credence to his expose.

Pichay and Suplico in separate instances were quick to deny the allegations made in the most convenient way available – labeling as liar the 87-year whistle-blower. And the ‘exchange of fire’ appeared to have ended when the young Teves came into the fray only to say – father and son – are two separate individuals.

Thus, the act of the young Teves pitted against that of the old Teves most automatically – but unfortunately – cancelled each other. The resulting logic amounts to this – at least one of them – is lying. And while this is being settled, it would appear that the supposed-to-be ‘criminals’ have to go Scot-free. Is the case deemed closed?

It challenges reflection if the expose be found to be true. At the very least, there had been similar claims made by Secretary Domingo Panganiban and in a much earlier time, that of Senator Miriam Santiago. Another one plucked straight from the private sector shared the same predicament to his utter disbelief. So what else is new?

We should consider the fact that we have 19 cabinet secretaries for 19 line departments aside from other cabinet portfolios without departments. If they were each ‘extorted’ the amount of P5 million, then CA would have ‘extorted’ P95 million. To think there is even greater number of below-the-secretary positions that are subject of CA confirmation – is doubly disconcerting. If the Senate counterparts are not on the take, the House contingent can play ‘small mafia’. Who then runs ‘corporate CA’?

That there is possible case of an ‘extortionist Congress’ – true or not – is a cause of alarm. It may just be the tip of the iceberg. It can follow that in all other like committees of both Chambers (Upper or Lower House) as powerful as that of CA – say the Committees on Legislative Franchises, Accounts, Appropriations, Ways & Means, Public Works & Highways, Defense, and Transportation and Communications – the possibility of an evolving culture of “ask and you shall receive” would not be far removed. Is the tale of ‘lobby money’ just a myth?

Panganiban has not more tacitly stated having opted to be bypassed than cave in to giving P80 million worth of projects for so-called ‘parochial requests” from then members of CA. Still, there are those who unabashedly even claim that “asking” is equivalent to this – “paglalambing ng mga kongresista”. Is Secretary Jesli Lapus serious? Viewed differently, when any CA member who wields power and authority over asks a favor (in kind or in cash) from a to-be-confirmed cabinet secretary, is that not tantamount to all sorts of things – extortion, intimidation, harassment, bribery, quid pro quo, et cetera?

It sure may be difficult to prove old Teves’ expose as true. But some seminal work must begin especially in the light of the fact that this alleged “extortionist activity’ may have already gone on a wider scale and much longer time than the public ever knew. Certainly, we do not want to know that our cabinet secretaries only bought their cabinet portfolios for P5 million in cash or P80 million in kind Nor can we accept the fact that the CA can make of prospective cabinet secretaries – victims or beneficiaries.

The ground rules for this upcoming 14th Congress must now be cut clean. Miriam Santiago should now amend the Rules of CA where a one-member vote can overturn that of the whole Commission. This seems to be the culprit why the door is open for bribes, extortions, and such other anomalies.

On the same vein, the House must now amend its own rules than perpetuate a historical anomaly where one person can be a Speaker for life – or for as long as he can arrogate it upon himself by some ‘magic spell’ or ‘hocus pocus’. I have never learned this practice or comeuppance as genuinely consistent with our cherished democratic tradition here in the Philippines. Truth is, this ‘self-misappropriation’ bastardizes democracy as we know it.

UP Diliman, Quezon City
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