Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

As I write this, there seems to be frantic race in Batasan to file the first set of bills in the 16th Congress. It’s a futile effort since the date of filing has no bearing in the calendaring of measures dictated by the powerful Rules Committee. Furthermore, being an early porker or early bird doesn’t guarantee the passage of a bill into law. During the 15th Congress, Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson beat everybody by being the first to submit his priority measures into the House records. However, this symbolic feat proved useless because he resigned anyway.

Despite the inconsequentiality of the act, many staffers were still forced by their principals to join the pre-SONA mad rush in Batasan. This is Congress, an institution obsessed with substanceless rituals and meaningless political gestures. Perhaps these are aggressively pursued to make people forget the open secret that Congress is a place infested with lazy politicians.

Indeed, the Batasan plenary is an underused government facility since Congress sessions are few and quorum is seldom achieved. It seems congressmen like to attend happy hours instead of session hours. In fact, many of them prefer to do business in the lounge, they bully civil servants outside the committee meeting rooms, and they spend more time and resources deodorizing their public image.

During my first term, a young dynast chided my neophyte behavior of reading the House Journals and Order of Business in the plenary hall. He said he was like me during his first year in office but eventually turned cynical after he realized that the Congress agenda is already pre-determined by the same cabal that controls the Palace.

Indeed, Congress has always been subservient to Malacanang. It is a Marcos legacy which proved useful to post-Edsa administrations. The live plenary session is actually just a show, a necessary spectacle to establish the fiction of an independent Congress.

The Presidential Legislative Liaison Office is literally behind the plenary session hall which enforces Palace directives in Congress. Its office is even closer to the plenary compared to the Speaker’s office at the second floor. Politician minions wanting to be close to the Big Boss perform snitching jobs in behalf of the PLLO. They are often dispatched to warn recalcitrant colleagues that if they want unimpeded access to Malacanang funds, it demands total acquiescence on their part at all times.

Diverse and even eccentric views are tolerated but dissenting views are censored and punished. There is plurality of perspectives as long as the final vote tally is assured in favor of the Palace agenda. No issue can be tackled without first securing the votes needed to win the debate.

Through this tactic, Congress remains a conservative institution immune from radical viewpoints. It seeks to redirect the attention of independent thinkers to bureaucratic and parochial issues; it blocks activist initiatives, it castrates the radical threat, and advances the elitist agenda through the use of elegant and enigmatic legalese. In other words, there is no turning to the Left in Congress. It is always on the Right and for the Right, even if it is not often the right and reasonable thing to do.

But the appeal of the Reactionary Right is practically difficult to ignore. It names itself as the truth of the present and this is loudly and widely echoed by the corporate-controlled press. In addition, it has at its disposal the whole knowledge-producing machinery of society. A politician can therefore easily and conveniently rationalize his decision to stick to the Right. He can dish out superficial statements and get rave reviews from the Establishment.

On the other hand, a politician who attacks the shaky grounds of consensus will be vilified. He who name things for what they really are, he who exposes the naked king, he who heralds the rise of the new will be dismissed as an odd political creature.

To escape the wrath of the gods, some reformists came close to collaboration by renouncing militancy in favor of compromise. They still speak the language of reform but they do so in order to make pure evil less evil in the eyes of the public. They willingly and shamelessly accept the trapo framework of addressing social issues: discuss the problem (even thoroughly) but the solution must not disrupt the core of the system. From time to time, I’m impressed with their progressive standpoint on some issues. But most of the time, they are simply former warriors who already succumbed to the dark side of the force. Tragic.

No person can enter and leave the glorified squalor without being scarred. A person can’t simply witness so many horrible deeds and continue to live without being affected by them. There are no survivors, even the activists who stubbornly clinged to their beliefs. They who went inside the dragon’s lair but failed to slay the beast.

Related articles:

Young politicians
Leftists in Congress
There and back again
Radicalism, reformism

2 Responses to “Dear Neophyte”

  1. […] the legislative agenda? Who decides which bills will pass the legislative mill? The Malacanang. Institutionalized meddling of the Executive in the affairs of Congress is provided courtesy of the Legislative Executive […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Congress Lobbying

  2. “From time to time, I’m impressed with their progressive standpoint on some issues. But most of the time, they are simply former warriors who already succumbed to the dark side of the force. Tragic.” There are many pretenders in Congress. Glad to know that there are those who are not fooled.


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