POSTSCRIPT / January 17, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why JV isn’t openly rejecting House seat

IT is hard to believe the claim of President Estrada that his favorite son Joseph Victor Ejercito is actually not interested in a sectoral congressional seat.

If JV were not lusting for a sectoral slot in the House of Representatives, he would have come out outright to renounce the seat that his father’s lapdogs in the Commission on Elections are preparing for him.

That JV is careful not to categorically reject the proffered seat simply means that, despite the controversy over this shameless fraud, he is still clinging to the possibility that the Supreme Court may just uphold the Comelec.

If the Estrada moles in the high court give Malacañang advance information of an impending rebuff, we won’t be surprised if JV makes a hurried public disavowal of any interest in a sectoral congressional seat.

Such a gimmick would earn him PR points and shield him from the flak of a Supreme Court ruling that, indeed, sectoral parties getting less than the required 2 percent (of the total votes cast for the party list) are not entitled to a congressional seat.

* * *

THE petition pending with the high court questioning the impending proclamation of 38 additional sectoral or party-list congressmen from among the losing sectoral parties was filed by the first 13 sectoral parties that had won 14 seats earlier.

These winning groups argue that if more seats for sectoral congressmen are to be filled at all, they (the 13 winning sectoral parties) should have the first crack at them.

The court should reject this prayer of the winning sectoral parties demanding additional seats for themselves. It smacks of greed and a callous disregard for public sentiments.

Taxpayers are already overburdened by the multi-billion-peso expenses of more than 200 sitting congressmen. This breaks down to some P50 million per representative.

Are we to take in 38 more congressmen and add to the lunacy and profligacy in government?

* * *

IN proportion to our needs and resources, we should have not more than 200 congressmen.

To simplify the system further, we should cut it to the bone, rid it of cholesterol and limit the congressional session to just 100 days per year as in those days before martial rule turned the Filipino’s world upside down.

Salaries of lawmakers should be only for work done. We tell them to meet in session for only 100 working days and we pay them only for that. That’s how regular workers are paid, for work done, so why should so-called public servants be paid differently?

Imagine the more than 50-percent savings in the gargantuan budget of Congress—not to mention the drastic reduction in air pollution around the legislature and the political garbage that finds its way into media!

* * *

THE main piece of legislation that lawmakers should attend to is the national budget. If they fail to pass it within 100 days — and there is no reason why they cannot — the old budget is simply carried over.

The truth of the matter is that we can make do with the laws that we already have. In fact, if we were to come right down to it, we can live with just the 10 Commandments.

The multi-billion-peso savings can then be channeled to upgrading essential services and creating livelihood opportunities for marginalized sectors. (We’re not referring to the marginalized sectors that party-list solons claim to represent.)

With Congress leading the way in frugality, the rest of government can follow.

* * *

IN Congress, meanwhile, a showdown of sorts is expected tomorrow over moves in the House to railroad a resolution saying that the chamber is against the repeal or revision of the death penalty law.

This is the same resolution that Rep. Roy Golez of Parañaque tried hard to pass off as a House resolution on the basis of more than a hundred signatures scrawled on it.

But the Supreme Court was not fooled by the high-pressure gimmickry. It wrote directly to the House to check the status of the Golez initiative. This confirms our assertion in an earlier column that what Golez was peddling was not a House resolution. Not yet, anyway.

Why was Golez in such a great hurry? He knew that it was not a House resolution, so why did he still rush it to the high court and into the hands of media waiting at the tribunal? Was he just hitching on to the issue while it was still hot?

There is not much difference if Echegaray were executed last Jan. 4 as scheduled, or the following week or month. Remember that the Supreme Court did not reverse or commute the death sentence, but merely postponed it.

There is time enough for everybody, for Golez and the court, to observe due process. There’s also time enough for the executioner to do his job.

* * *

SURE, there is a flareup of violence in Mindanao, as it is bound to happen every now and then.

But as far as many Filipinos caught in the death grip of Metro Manila managers are concerned, that controlled violence down South is no comparison to the slow death they have to endure in city streets.

In the same way that President Estrada made that trip up the Pasig river to see for himself the death throes of a historic waterway, he should take a random bus on EDSA with regular commuters and experience the traffic and pollution strangling the nation’s capital.

We submit that if the President who claims to bleed for the mahihirap refuses to do something about the twin problems of traffic and pollution in the streets of Metro Manila, he will be a gross failure.

* * *

TRAFFIC is sapping the vitality of the capital. It is driving away foreigners, even those who have learned over the years to live with the inconveniences of a capital city still wallowing in primitive government services.

The loss of valuable man-hours alone is enough to kill the economy. The state of our traffic is a microcosm of the sad state of the nation. It is also an indication of how low our values have declined.

Everyday in traffic, we see how the gentle, patient Filipino is transformed into a monster that must think and act like a beast fighting for raw survival in an inhospitable jungle.

Will President Estrada and the rest of officialdom please do something about this crisis? It is a crisis that only the blind cannot see.

* * *

THE pollution that thousands of commuters must endure every day of their blasted lives is left to worsen. Nobody seems to care anymore, because tackling pollution does not bring in millions in commissions?

We are dying slowly in the streets. Our children’s mental and body growth is stunted, maybe for good. Our productivity is cut down by the debilitating effects of pollution.

Mr. President, please find time to do something about this. Show the same anger, the same resolve as you had shown in tackling such other problems as kidnapping. More people are dying from pollution than from kidnapping.

* * *

THE long-delayed Metro Rail Transit—a project spanning the Aquino, Ramos and the Estrada administrations—epitomizes the twin problems of traffic and pollution in the streets.

That the excruciatingly slow work on the MRT contributes greatly to traffic and pollution is so obvious we need not illustrate it.

All that President Estrada “para sa mahihirap” has to do is heed our suggestion to take an open bus from Monumento to Makati during rush hours.

The President can also require officials, especially Cabinet members, to take regular public transport at least twice a week when going to their offices or appointments.

That is one routine that has been removed from the daily lives of officials. That has made them not only unaware but also insensitive to the daily problems of ordinary Filipinos.

It is only when our leaders learn and practice the true meaning of being “public servants” can they start to lead.

It is time, Mr. President, that all government personnel, officials especially, took to heart the constitutional mandate to “lead modest lives” so they would be able to redeem their solemn oaths.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 17, 1999)

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