Moral ascendancy … ugh!By Raul J. Palabrica Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The self-righteous senators have fallen from their pedestal.
In the aftermath of the recent ugly exchange of words between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, the Senate, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, lost its moral ascendancy to conduct inquiries into corruption in the government.
Despite Enrile’s claim that his release of Senate “savings” to favored senators was within his authority (and supposedly part of its tradition), it is clear the Senate observes a double standard in handling the taxpayers’ money.
In the Senate’s book, it is wrong for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to convert unused appropriations to savings so its chiefs of staff can retire from the service with hefty cash gifts.
Using the same yardstick, it is immoral for the Supreme Court to source additional allowances for judges from funds earlier allocated for new judges and construction of courtrooms that, for one reason or another, were not spent for those purposes.
By some convoluted standard, however, the senators see nothing wrong with dividing among themselves unused appropriations of the people’s money as long as they are equally shared.
The practice becomes obscene, like that of the AFP and the Supreme Court, only if the person in charge of distributing the loot plays favorites among his hungry flock.
It does not help that, in a belated face saving move, the senators agreed to allow the Commission on Audit to examine their financial records and to submit vouchers, official receipts and other related documents in the liquidation of their expenses, in lieu of self-serving certifications that they incurred the expenses for official purposes.
Nice try, but the reputation of the supposedly birthplace of the country’s presidents has been indelibly stained. Damage control will not work.
Next time some loud mouth senators rave and rant about good governance, transparency and integrity in public service, we can look straight into their eyes and say without hesitation “look who’s talking.”
For the business community, the washing of the Senate’s dirty linen in public may be considered karmic justice. Between the two houses of Congress, the Upper House is more cruel and sadistic in the treatment of persons invited to so-called hearings “in aid of legislation.”
For government officials and employees, attendance in congressional hearings, regardless of the purpose, is par for the course. It comes with the territory of being in government and getting paid from the people’s money.
Not so for legitimate businessmen who prefer to be left alone and, if they can help it, want to limit their interaction with the government and its regulators to the barest minimum.
In Congress, businessmen who are invited to legislative hearings in connection with some alleged or perceived violation of existing laws are fair game for lawmakers who either have axes to grind against them, have interests to protect, or simply want to have their faces seen or their voices heard in news broadcasts.
Corporations engaged in businesses that deal directly with the public, i.e., transportation and communications, or in the exploitation and development of natural resources are favorite whipping boys in congressional investigations. More so if they are profitable and need legislative or special franchises to operate.
Getting an invitation to a legislative hearing is akin to having an appointment with a dentist for a tooth extraction. You don’t look forward to it, or even hate it, but you have no choice but to go.
In legislative hearings, senators and congressmen are kings or queens. They are all-knowing, morally upright and guardians of the public welfare. They can scold, berate, criticize and belittle invited “guests” in the name of good government, transparency and public accountability.
If an invitee or resource person dares to insist on his right not to be interrupted when he is talking or counter punches at caustic remarks, he will be threatened with a citation for contempt or ordered locked up until he learns to “respect” the sanctity of their status as the people’s representatives.
When it comes to denigrating the character of attendees at these hearings, congressional colleagues included, Sen. Miriam Santiago has no peer.
She is prone to going into tantrums or insulting them when their answers do not meet her expectations or otherwise expose the paucity of her statements or arguments.
The “moral ascendancy” she is wont to project in committee hearings and Senate deliberations has since disintegrated in the light of Lacson’s revelation about her use of public funds to pay rent for office space for her staff in a building owned by her husband.
So much for good governance, transparency and public accountability in taxpayers’ money!
If the senators and congressmen think the business people they invite (and routinely embarrass) in their hearings are impressed by their antics, they’re dreaming.
Outside of hearing distance and in the privacy of their offices, these people have nothing but contempt and disgust for senators and congressmen who ask unintelligent questions, make uncalled for remarks and, worse, give opinions on subject matters they know nothing about, except what has been fed to them by their staff.
The statement of Enrile’s chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, that the Senate stinks equally applies to the House of “Representathieves.”
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