Monday, August 06, 2007

Sorry Spectacle in Congress

There was an article published in the July 29- August 4 issue of the Village Voice, a minor publication distributed in communities around the Metro Manila area. It is actually the editorial of the said publication, entitled “Sorry Spectacle in Congress”:

Uncouth shouting and utter lack of proper decorum marked the opening session of the 14th Congress. The elder representatives could not restrain themselves from engaging in a manner unbecoming of lawmakers. Our Congressmen have a duty to treat their colleagues with due respect not for who they are (partymates/oppositionists) but because they are duly elected representatives of their constituents, our countrymen. Congressmen must treat their colleagues in a polite and civil manner at all times in the halls of Congress.

One of the duties as public servants is to spare the Filipino people from the spectacle of shameful and disgraceful high-pitched shouting on the floor of Congress. We should never have to undergo the shame of seeing them behave like “canto boys” (street tough guys) during their sessions. Our lawmakers have to de-program their arrogance and immense urge to flaunt power. In the opening of our 14th Congress, it was evident that our congressmen, not only the neophytes but sadly even the senior lawmakers have to make a special effort to behave like statesmen who are governed by the strict rules of proper decorum.

The brushing aside of the spectacle of loud disagreements, objections in shouting matches and impolite behavior as just a healthy display of democracy is ridiculous. Ion a democracy, everyone is supposed to be given due respect. Everyone has a right to have his voice heard, no matter how insignificant the size of his political bailiwick. The governing atmosphere in the halls of Congress is the freedom to discuss and to object which to be effective must be done in a civilized and proper airing of opinions and objections.

The sorry spectacle of “honorable congressmen” junking proper decorum and simple courtesy in their frenzy to protect selfish political interests and positions at the opening session of Congress is deplorable. This shameful behavior of lawmakers is not a sign of healthy democracy. This is lame and inane excuse for bad manners. The democratic process is an exercise of respect for one another’s right to speak and be heard. Uncouth and disrespectful words and action towards one’s colleagues can never be a part of a civilized democratic process.

It seems that the buzzword nowadays is “Reform”.

We read and hear about our colleagues who emphatically declare that what the House of Representatives needs is reform.

One of the most respectable and dignified members of the august body called Congress, whose experience has imbibed him with sobering wisdom, expressed it with a catchy term --– Cha-Cha, or Chamber Change.

It has been said that change is always met with resistance. But in this case, I believe that there is no member of the House who does not believe that indeed, we need to reform this Chamber. From the ranks of the majority and the minority, administration or opposition, everyone seems to collectively agree that the tattered image of the House of Representatives begs for an overhaul.

In the interesting and colorful race for the Speakership of the House both contenders offered changes that were welcomed by the honorable members of Congress, which was an acknowledgement of the tarnished image of the House.

Truly, it takes talented leadership to initiate and implement reform. Thus, it is desirable to have a candidate vying for the position of First Among Equals to offer reform, especially if it will result in the redemption of the chamber.

But in a collegial body like the House of Representatives, where every member is a leader in his or her own right, isn’t reform a duty of each and every person who is actually a Representative not only of his or her respective constituency but also of the Institution called the House of Representatives?

The obligation of cleansing the image of the House does not fall solely on the shoulders of the First Among Equals but rather on the head of Each One Among Equals.

In the area of attendance, for example, it has been made a leadership issue in the House of Representatives. But after deeper thought, isn’t it really a membership issue? One that is resolved by the individual members of this Chamber instead of by the Speaker of the House?

Can it be truly called reform if the Speaker has to entice attendance by offering incentives or imposing penalties?

Shouldn’t each member deserving to be called Representative take it upon himself to fulfill the duty to attend sessions and functions in this Chamber, without need for reward or punishment?

If each and every member of this House acknowledges that attendance is a problem, isn’t it logical that the solution is for each member, especially those who acknowledge the problem, to simply attend sessions faithfully and diligently? There is no need for attendance to be a platform of reform by a candidate for Speaker.

The editorial was what compelled me to speak up about this. Some might say we might as well let the events of the opening session pass and for us to move on. But if there is one lesson that I have learned in my previous two terms in Congress, it is for one to speak your mind at once or forever hold your peace. I have actually held my peace many times, though I still had to vent out the steam in some other place, some other time and they turned out to be unproductive.

It is obvious that in the article, the events that have been labeled a “Sorry Spectacle in Congress”, has once again added to the dismal image of the House. Indeed, people I spoke to who were able to watch the proceedings on television chided and teased me about how Congress has deteriorated in the eyes of the people.

Of course, I tried to defend this institution, but it is very difficult to defend against an argument that one agrees with.

While public opinion may have low regard for the image of the House, I believe that we are not beyond reform. But reform should start in each and every congressman and it should not depend on who is sitting at the helm of the Chamber.

This is an opportunity to remind the members of the House of this power of reform in our hands because if we do not start now, while the 14th Congress is still young, we might not be able to start the reforms at all.

I feel like an old man when I hear the young neophytes of the 14th Congress speak of idealism and reform. I too, when I was a neophyte, was brimming with idealism and confidence that I can change the world overnight. I am now on my third term but I find myself still out chasing the dream of a righteous world.

AT other times, I feel like I’m part of a hopeless generation when the elders start to speak of the “good ol’ days when Congress was honorable and the Chamber was filled by the rhetorics of the grand old men of politics past”.

I strain to stop myself from reacting from such comments, which seem to condemn us, the present members of Congress to the image of incompetence, mediocrity and uselessness, but I believe that instead of taking on our critics head on, we might as well just prove them wrong through our actions.

The 13th Congress, the number of which seemed to have been an omen of how things would go during its short lifespan, is already in the realm of history. We, the members of the 14th Congress now have the opportunity to turn the image of the House of Representatives around.

Reform should not be dependent on who the Speaker of the House is. If we all agree that we need to clean up this house, then reform will come through our collective effort.

So far we have shown that the problem of attendance can be nipped in the bud. IN the first three weeks of the 14th Congress, members of the House have been producing impressive numbers during roll call. Let’s just hope that this is sustained for the rest of the session days.

With the committees being organized one by one, it won’t be long when the real work begins and the opportunity for reform becomes available to us.

Another area that has given the House of Representatives a black eye is the behavior of members of the House during sessions and hearings. As mentioned in the article, the brash behavior of some members who utilize to the power of their lungs and voice rather than the strength of their argument, or those who resort to hysterics rather than rhetorics, contribute to the low regard that the public has of this institution.

Congress is a deliberative body governed by procedures and rules in the course of its proceedings. Let us prove to the people that the 14th Congress is composed of honorable men and women worthy to be called such.

I am on my third term. I have no desire to leave COngress in 2010 with the nagging thought that the public has branded the House of Representatives as a disgrace. This is why I write not to castigate anyone in particular or wash our dirty linen in public. My only wish is that members of congress work together to show the people that the taxes they pay is used to sustain in office public servants worthy to be called honorable.

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