Cobbling Street Signs

by Juan L. Mercado

“What would the Ten Commandments  have looked like if Moses  had run them through …Congress,”  the  late President Ronald Reagan  once wondered..  Wonder no more.  Listen  instead  to  Rep. Mark Cojuangco.

”We’re only good at changing the names of  streets and schools. These  are  what the   House proudly  claims as it’s accomplishments,“ the Pangasinan  representative  wailed . Congress  adjourned Wednesday. “Crucial bills are left rotting…Shouldn’t  we…finally vote and decide on them?”
Congressman  Cojuangco underestimates  his  colleagues’s  capacity – or appetites.   They  have more skills than  just  cobbling   new signboards for  streets and schools.

Congressmen  are  no slouch  at  burning  tax  money.  They appropriated, for  themselves   P13-million pork barrel slabs  each last  year.. They’ll  have more this election year.  Watch   when  the final General  Approriations Act  surfaces..   

At  Malacanang’s behest, congressmen embedded P19.6 billion in “one-liners” into the Department of Public Works & Highways’ budget  last year.. Another P11.6 billion  was   stashed into  the Transport & Communication department budget.  Buckle  up for  repeated  plunder.

Led  by the  President and  First  Gentleman, 28  cash-flush congressmen sallied into New York’s  Le Cirque Restaurant and Vann’s  Steakhouse. None has been held to account, despite  Speaker Prospero Nograles’ August  20  pledge : Each would foot the bill  personally.

Congress  has  demonstrated  it’s mettle as  “Laundromat”.  Remember  World Bank’s   probe into  a major cartel   that  colluded in  rigging bids for a   $150-million  national roads  project?

After a four year probe, the Bank  blacklisted  seven firms. Three were  Filipino companies:  EC De Luna Construction Corp., CM  Pancho Construction, and Cavite Ideal Construction.

In less than a week’s  time, the   House committee on public works and highways  “cleared” the firms.   The  House  probers  were  either  whiz kids  or  crooks. Take your pick.

“Laundromat” patterns  emerged in  scams like  Northrail,  “Joc-Joc’s  fertilizer , Macapagal Boulevard, etc.  “It could be probably be shown by facts    and figures, that  there is no distinctly native …criminal class except  Congress,”  Mark Twain  wrote in 1897.

The Lower House proved adept at derailing repeated impeachment bids, lodged against the President or allies, like Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Farther back, pro-Joseph  Estrada  congressmen  sprang Luzviminda Tancangco, over at the Commission on Elections.  On a budget of  P1.2 billion,  she  awarded a P6.5 billion contract for election IDs.  This Voters’ Registration project disenfranchised thousands.   Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and pro-Erap solons absented themselves on the crucial vote.

Presidential candidate Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro  never  refers to his quarter-backing  Eduardo  Cojuangco’s “Brat  Pack”  in impeaching  Chief  justice Hilario  Davide.

The  Davide court ruled that coconut levies were public funds, not crony loot. The court clipped Marcos  booty in Swiss banks. Dogged resistance by citizens and church groups stopped the “Pack”. But  not before  “Gibo” &  Co. dragged the country to the  brink of  a constitutional crisis.  

Ombudsman Aniano  Desierto was,  the late Senator Lorenzo  Tanada stressed,  consumed only by  Desierto’s interests.   But “even emperors have straw  sandalled relatives”,  noted Viewpoint (Inquirer 10/20/05).  “In history’s lottery,  Merceditas  Gutierrez  was the  First Gentleman’s  classmate..” 

A straw-sandalled Ombudsman squelched, or froze, key cases, depending on Palace interests,  Philippine Human Development Report 2009 notes. These ranged from the Mega Pacific election computer case to World Bank’s crack down on highway bid collusion.  In November, pro-Arroyo  congressmen spiked, an impeachment charge, against Gutierrez.

Gutierrez  term ends in 2012.   She’ll  be handed  a slew of accusations  when constitutional immunity for President Arroyo (and de-facto immunity for the First Gentleman) ends noon of June 30, 2010.  Or will she still be Ombudsman?

“There’s talk the Palace wants to replace Ombudsman Gutierrez”,  Newsbreak’s Aries Rufo reports. That way, “the new appointee would have a fresh term of  seven years.”

Is that how long the regime foresees the need  “to cover its flanks”?    What’s clear for now  is “the  Constitution protects aliens, drunks and congressmen,” as  Will Rogers once joked.

The  wreckage the 14th Congress left is patent.  The Freedom of Information bill, for example, was “one step away from passage but the House of Representatives didn’t deliver,” ABS-CBN Carmela  Fonbuena  reports.

FOI author Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III  (Quezon)  was pessimistic  the House would ratify  the  report,  when  Congress convenes, as  National Board of Canvassers,  after the May elections.

Lower House’s ratification would have taken no more than 30 seconds.  If there was no objection, the floor leader could have  declared it  approved   “But the House leadership  failed  Tanada,” Fonbuena added.  “The session was immediately adjourned because of lack of quorum.”

“(Democracy) will endure until the day Congress discovers it can bribe the public with the public’s money,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote. Has that day come?

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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