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.

The House of Representatives honored its own members last June 5 by distributing medals, plaques, and other mementos to first, second, and third termers of the 15th Congress. It was the most disgusting selfie moment of the year. What could be a more ghastly way of wasting taxpayers’ money than staging a superfluous pomp for so-called public servants which included the perennial absentee and non-performing legislators?

Even worse, the plenary body quickly and casually approved several bills and resolutions of national significance on its last session day which denied members and the public the opportunity to review these measures. This last minute omnibus approval of pending measures was caused by the failure of Congress to properly finish its legislative work before the start of the campaign period last February.

This is our House of Representatives – an institution incapable of concluding its primary function (apologies to the hardworking secretariat and staff) and a body of bloated egos which adjourned its third regular session by rewarding its lazy members.

It is the same Congress which supposedly holds the ‘power of the purse’ but unwilling to ‘steal’ even a centavo from Malacanang and realign it to social welfare agencies. Instead, it keeps intact the Palace budget loaded with corruptionable projects as long as pork is delivered in the districts.

Many of its members are unnecessarily harsh to civil service officials during committee hearings but they refuse to be critical against the President and his mafia in the Liberal Party. They pitifully cling to the party in power like parasites. Look how fast they dumped Gloria Arroyo in 2010.

The president and his budget chief, and not the speaker, are the overlords who control the votes of Congress members. This was most evident during the RH voting last December. The tragedy in the RH saga was not the embarrassing loss of the Catholic hierarchy but the unprincipled behavior of members who mysteriously disappeared in the plenary during the crucial hour of voting. It seems the fanatic anti-RH advocates were ‘persuaded’ not to vote in order not to antagonize the president.

Interestingly, the RH debate also exposed the state of mind of our legislators. Some speeches in favor or against the RH were quite tragicomic, pathetic even. How can we forget shocking open liners like ‘this is a matter of principle’ or ‘this is a conscience vote’? Did they just admit publicly that it’s the first time they voted according to principle and conscience?

Unfortunately, it was a revelation which didn’t sound new to the public. It seems legislators really have low reputations.

But can we blame the public for thinking that legislators are ‘superbads’ if what they often see is the imeldific lifestyle of politicians? Instead of receiving support, the poor are dismissed by arrogant public servants during non-election years. Morality is not seriously used as criteria in elections which allowed recidivists and low life rich criminals (plunderers and rapists) to occupy high positions in government.

But despite their negative image and sloppy performance, members of Congress continue to think highly of themselves. They exaggerate the impact of their trivial proposals while remaining blind to the real situation of their constituents. For instance, if they merely want to change a street name, they would laughably offer it as some kind of solution to a community problem. If they upgrade the status of a school, they want the community to memorialize this ministerial gesture in perpetuity.

They are part of a lawmaking body but prefer to act like executive officials distributing goodies to constituents.

Congress is actually an oversized democratic trapping. It claims to be the House of People bringing together district and partylist representatives under one roof in Batasan Hills, which is symbolically close to Payatas dumpsite. But in truth, it is the House of Lords – jueteng lords, drug lords, warlords, and landlords. It is the House of Multimillionaires and closet billionaires. It is male-dominated and hopelessly conservative. It is a bastion of elitism, sexism, parochialism, feudalism, and nepotism.

It gives creepy serious attention to the role it plays in the annual ceremonial event called the State of the Nation Address. The event, according to political analysts, represents unity in the country since members of the three branches of government are gathered in Batasan to hear the president’s report to the people. But it is a sham unity. Unity that lasts for only a few hours. After SONA, it’s back to normal for Philippine politics characterized by vicious infighting in the bureaucracy, petty squabbles among dynasts, the mad scramble to hoard the treasury, and the vindictive response of the nefarious ruling clique towards those who are opposed to its hegemony. The SONA gives us a glimpse of the nether world beyond the ‘gates of hell’.

Having said that, Batasan Hills is still a better workplace compared to the cramped complex of the Senate and other government centers. It has an exclusive lounge for members offering unli food and drinks; and attendance in the plenary is required for only a few minutes.

Obviously, Congress is a place to meet 50 shades of greying politicians who can be really friendly, jolly, and witty. It’s a semi-retirement hangout for veteran trapos whose life stories have also defined the political era of many provinces.

But Congress is not the place to revolutionize Philippine politics. It’s even a bad exposure to OJT wannabes. Try delivering a speech in a hall with 200 empty seats and desks. Participate in legislative debates regarding proposed laws that were already pre-determined by the Palace, foreign think tanks, and corporate lobbyists. Seriously focus on legislation while your colleagues are seriously focused on PDAF. Vote in favor of reform (Corona impeachment) only to confirm later that it’s part of a sinister Palace ploy to monopolize political power.

If Congress remains bankrupt, what option is left to our people desirous for change, revolutionary change? Where can our people place their trust, their present and future? If Congress can only delay the birthing of the new, what is to be done?

Fortunately, there exists a superior political alternative. My surreal descent into the bowels of the reactionary Congress has allowed me to further appreciate the power, the purity, the nobility of this alternative.

It is truly democratic – where the masses are participating and leading with great enthusiasm. Its agenda is defined by the people who have immersed themselves in the heat of the struggle. It is both a name and event which toppled tyrants, dictators and oppressive governments. It is about history and the making of history.

It is where I met humble men and women of remarkable intellect, idealism, and vigor. Kind and brave souls. Activists, Warriors, Comrades. Friends. My wife, my children. My family. My home.

What is this superior political alternative?

The Mass Movement. The People’s Movement.

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