Reclaim Congress!

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

If you are happy with the current state of affairs in our legislature, then do not bother to read on.

For voters who want to make changes, this piece is for you.

Critical issues inundate the public space right now. Thus, this is truly not the time for us to collectively bury our heads in the sand. On the contrary, this is precisely the moment when we are asked to make an important decision, and that is, do we want to reclaim our Congress?

Close to 80% of lawmakers belong to fat political dynasties. In a democracy, having political dynasties is to be expected, especially one as vibrant as ours. But to have this many, and to have dynasties this huge, is no longer normal. “Dynasty on steroids” is how one journalist described our local political dynasties.

We have heard the argument that not all dynasties are bad. That there are indeed “good” dynasties out there, if one looks hard enough. Admittedly, this is a great topic for a healthy debate. But we only need to apply common sense to know that the domination of fat dynasties of our political system has not led to positive outcomes for the rest of country. The dynasties have clearly flourished in their wealth and well-being, but most of us have fallen way, way behind most development indicators.

The dictionary defines dynasty as follows: “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time”. Thus, by their very nature, political dynasties instinctively aim to keep their hold on political power for as long as they possible can. Correspondingly, the primary objective of their members whilst holding government posts, is to consolidate the grip of their clan over political and economic power. The reality is public service will always be a secondary (or incidental) consideration for dynastic politicians.

So, it should terrify us that at this point, our Congress may have deviated quite a distance from their very raison d’être. With so many dynastic politicians in there, how can we be sure that public interest is still the top priority? Can we still rely on our lawmakers to make the correct decision when it will be politically detrimental for them? Is “doing the right thing” now an impossible standard to impose on our lawmakers?

For instance, one major national concern facing us at this moment is the allocation of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF for brevity) to government agencies that are not directly engaged in law enforcement or national defense. Case in point are the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, both of which are headed by the same person, Vice-President Sara Duterte.

Apart from her political allies, this budget allocation is presently facing a torrent of criticism from all over the political spectrum. Even non-aligned, non-partisan folks are expressing alarm at this practice of allotting millions of pesos to government agencies which arguably have no real need for an CIF.

According to the Vice-President, “The matter of the confidential funds should be left to the wisdom of the entire membership of the House of Representatives and the Senate…” This will not silence her critics completely, nevertheless, this statement is absolutely true. Congress ultimately has the final say in the allocation of CIF in the national budget.

But here lies the rub, both chambers of our legislature are dominated by rabid supporters of the Vice-President. For a while there, she was in a conflict with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but they have since reconciled. Considering the political reality in Congress, can we really count on our lawmakers to fulfil their duty when it comes to the allocation of CIF to civilian offices in government?

It is pretty obvious now that more resources must be allocated to our Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and our Navy (PN), specifically as regards their intel-gathering operations. Hence, it is only reasonable to think that the CIF budgeted for civilian offices like the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education is better given to the PCG and the PN.

If we had the money to fund all these agencies, then there would be no problem at all. But given how strained our national coffers is, it is only logical and practical to prioritize the agencies that actually need CIF, right? Sadly, given the composition of our Congress today, it is difficult to be confident that they will see it this way. Partisan considerations will likely prevent them from doing the right thing for the good of the nation.

And thus, we may yet still see civilian offices in our government getting more CIF than those directly engaged in law enforcement and national defense. Even though we all know from our troubles in the West Philippine Sea that intel-gathering work is extremely vital for these agencies. Again, the question we must be asking ourselves now is, do we want this travesty to continue?

Our country is beset by a long list of intergenerational problems. We have the education crisis, catastrophic flooding everywhere, food insecurity that is only getting worse, a huge public debt, crippling economic inequality, and a whole lot more. The thing is, intergenerational problems cannot be solved by politically-motivated solutions or “Epal moves” in street parlance.

Intergenerational problems require legislative action. Meaning, only our lawmakers can provide the ultimate solutions to these existential challenges. And so, voters have an important decision to make. Should we just allow the domination of fat political dynasties of our Congress to carry on? Or should we reclaim it from them?