Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

How does it feel to be a congressman? Friends, relatives, and even new acquaintances have been asking me this question for the past seven months. I always reply with a joke. I tell them that my carefree activities have been restricted like jaywalking or buying pirated materials. I am somewhat hesitant to answer this question partly because I feel I still do not have enough experience as a congressman. The regular first termers in the House have been in office since 2007. I moved into my more-than-a-cubicle-but-definitely-not-an-office room only last August. Together with 32 other partylist representatives, I consider myself as a neophyte among the neophytes.

It took several months before House employees were able to recognize me as a lawmaker. There are still times when security guards would prevent me from entering the main building of the Batasan especially when I’m not wearing a barong. In some committee hearings, I have to convince the committee chairman that I’m allowed to speak freely because I’m a congressman.
Perhaps because of my age, many of my colleagues who are old enough to be my parents and even grandparents presume that I’m willing to be lectured about the intricacies of Philippine politics. In most cases, they are right. I’m always interested to hear the unconventional and sometimes eccentric views of veteran politicians on various issues like parochialism, nepotism, charter change and Hayden Kho sex videos. But when I want to disagree with their opinion, I’m torn between expressing my real thoughts and acknowledging the wisdom of elders. I’m worried they might misconstrue my dissenting perspective as a misguided display of youthful arrogance.

During informal chats at the lounge, I often find myself unable to interest my senior citizen colleagues with topics that are popular among the youth. I cannot joke about unfriending them since many do not have facebook accounts. I often have to clarify the difference between vloginng, blogging and microblogging. Some of them couldn’t appreciate how netizens derive satisfaction by uploading short messages in the internet through twitter. To be fair, they too seem perplexed that I am quite an expert at googling but ignorant of golfing.

When it became evident that I cannot grab their attention by talking about RSS, plurk, or farmville, I yield by genuinely trying to be amused with their monologues. And so everyday, I participate in fun conversations about prostates, diabetes, and the many positive virtues of the incumbent president.

Being a politician-blogger is sometimes embarrassing. Well, embarrassing in front of people who are not used to seeing persons taking pictures of the food they eat. Politicians hire official photographers to document all their activities. I don’t have an official photographer. Imagine me in a committee hearing taking pictures of almost everybody in the room. It is awkward to talk to members of Congress after learning their dark secrets and alleged involvement in various scandals through youtube, google, and bing. I accidentally opened an unflattering web image of a lawmaker with a popular surname while inside the plenary.

Veteran members of the House have been reminding me that the Lower House is the best place to retire. Another colleague described our job as the best in the world. Maybe they were referring to the fact that inactive House members can continue to receive their monthly salaries. One can enjoy the perks of being a lawmaker even if he/she is spending time in prison or travelling on an extended vacation abroad. We are obliged to report for work from Mondays to Wednesdays only. Those who are not interested to attend committee hearings in the mornings can go directly to the plenary hall at 4pm. We adjourn around 8pm.

Many writers have already pointed out the perennial problem of absenteeism in the Lower House. Others have also decried the rising cost of legislation resulting from the inability of the House to muster a quorum. I have a personal complaint: I already memorized the names of all members of the 14th Congress but I haven’t met all of them yet. I always bring a copy of the House directory to familiarize myself with the names and pictures of my colleagues but I still have to meet them in person because sometimes our photoshopped faces do not match reality. I am hoping that some of my mysterious colleagues will finally appear and attend the last remaining sessions before the start of the Christmas break.

House members are always caricatured as boring, brute, and boorish. This is not applicable to all House members. We have many reasonable and intelligent legislators. They can be articulate, witty, and, funny if they want to. There are veteran lawmakers who have never been absent from the plenary proceedings since 1987. There are many lawmakers who come prepared during committee debates; they know what pertinent laws and programs to cite when defending or rejecting a bill; they can effectively argue their position without bullying their opponents. They don’t salivate over media attention.

But my admiration for these brilliant members of the House ceases the moment they transform into clueless apologists of the ruling administration. Those who showed their intellectual superiority in the committees become blind followers of the Malacanang marching orders in the plenary. It is disappointing to watch independent thinkers toeing the party line just to secure the much needed but overrated administration support in the upcoming 2010 elections.

From the start, I want to be described as an activist lawmaker. I’m a member of two parliaments: the parliament of the streets and the parliament in Batasan located near Payatas. I’m an activist who is advocating change through meaningful and progressive legislation. I’m a lawmaker who believes that activism is needed to spur fundamental change in society.

Unfortunately, my activist background does not prevent some people from treating me as a traditional politician who is expected to behave in the traditional way. My office is swamped with solicitation letters from senders who do not expect a rejection letter. I always receive bundles of raffle tickets which are considered sold by the organizers. There are people who want to judge my performance as a legislator by counting the number of hard and soft projects of my office. I do not blame this attitude and behavior since patronage politics is a dominant practice and culture in the country. But I detest the thinking of some people that youth legislators like me have no option but to emulate the established political tradition.

I did not lose my license to be an idealist when I took my oath as a member of Congress. I did not and would not abandon activism just to fulfill my duties as a lawmaker. In fact, embracing the principles of activism complements my role as a young legislator. I must remain an activist if I want to escape the curse of politicians who fights the system in their youth but ends up defending it in their later years.

Through my work in Congress, I have the opportunity to prove the sincerity of activists in pushing a workable agenda of change. The prospect of introducing an alternative type of politics inside a conservative institution gives me the inspiration every time I feel cynical about my job. Yes, I rub elbows with landlords, warlords, and other ‘lords’ in Congress but I can disregard this work hazard since I’m more interested in seeing the number of people outside the gates of Batasan getting bigger and stronger. A congressman has term limits but an activist can devote a lifetime in the noble but difficult struggle for lasting freedom, peace, and justice.

Related articles:

First week in Congress
Committee Memberships
First privilege speech
First interpellation

13 Responses to “Neophyte reflections”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mong palatino and Victor Villanueva, Kabataan Partylist. Kabataan Partylist said: Rep. Mong Palatino shares his experience as a neophyte member of the House of Representatives […]

    Tweets that mention Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Neophyte reflections --

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mongster: new blog post: neophyte reflections as a member of parliament:

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  3. Thanks for this fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of Congress and the minds of our solons. It’s pretty refreshing for a lawmaker to be this candid in sharing his experiences.

    Hope you’ll also have more luck teaching more of your colleagues how to use technology. Maybe you could play golf with them on the Wii or other consoles LOL.


    Joey Alarilla

  4. well said, mong. 🙂


  5. […] This post was Twitted by donbribon […]

    Twitted by donbribon

  6. thanks for the comments and tweets and for appreciating the post





  8. Mabuhay Ka! Huwag kang magbago kahit marami sa mga kasamang aktibista ay asta kapitalista na! Patnubayan ka ni Kabunian!

    Rey C. Sabio

  9. Mong this post grounded my idealist perspective of you being in congress. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your sharp critique of good congress persons who still hold the contradiction of towing the party line. Isulong!


  10. […] si Mong Palatino! Heto ang mga pagmumuni-muni niya sa ilang panahon niya ng paglilingkod sa Kongreso bilang kinatawan ng […]

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  11. […] do I blog and tweet my legislative work? Because it promotes transparency. Because it is both a public service and public duty. Because it […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Reflections of an activist/blogger/legislator

  12. […] do I blog and tweet my legislative work? Because it promotes transparency. Because it is both a public service and public duty. Because it […]

    Reflections of an Activist / Blogger / Legislator | Kabataan Partylist

  13. […] Neophyte Poverty and politics Blogger politician Young politicians Ka Bel […]

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