Rescue missions

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

With the might and persuasive power of the Presidency squarely behind the push for the greatest autonomy to the Bangsamoro, its no surprise that the House stampeded to adopt in toto the draft bill crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. The House vote was 227 to 11, with two abstentions. Since day one, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte made no secret of his preference to finally pass a basic law.

But the President’s endorsement was never unconditional. From day one, too, he cautioned that consistency with the Constitution was non negotiable. Remove the constitutional infirmities, he declared, and we concede the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The Senate’s version of the BBL shows that someone was paying attention. The Senators were as joined in solidarity as the Congressmen, voting 21-0. But the Senate had its amendments. The Senate insisted, among others, that Bangsamoro residents remain as citizens of the Philippines; there would only be a one time opt in and no opt out; the block grant of 6% was lowered to 5%; police and security forces are to be units of the Philippine National Police (PNP) which is a PRRD condition.

Why we need the Senate. The action of the Senate in the BBL debate as well as its posture questioning the Supreme Court’s Quo Warranto ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno makes its institutional raison d’etre self evident. 

At the House, the general rule is that members cannot be bothered to do the grunt work on pressing national issues. The reality is that most are on permanent campaign mode, perpetually caught up in the quagmire of needy constituency work. Blame this on the short three-year term. Given the lower age qualification, they are less seasoned than their Senate counterparts and, in several districts, the merit in their selection is grounded on parochial considerations. Congressman armed with more than a modicum of knowledge and expertise are the exception. But such grand exceptions they are, specially in the areas of their own specialization. The best of the House can compete with the best of the Senate any day. 

It is different in the Senate. In general, we have come to expect from our Senators and their committees a deeper grasp of policy considerations. Given their six-year terms, they have the luxury of growing into a technical legislative proficiency. Their smaller number also forces each Senator to have a wider and more diverse policy horizon. You can enter that chamber an empty vessel yet emerge with the equivalent of multiple advanced degrees, all the better for shaping legislation. In the upper house, the clueless is the exception.

The Senate was designed to serve as the coolant to a House prone to overheat from the passions of its members. It is now also essaying the same role to the Supreme Court. 

Dancing with no music. Individual members of Congress have contested with fervor the administration’s West Philippine Sea policy. This more activist stance is good for the institution. When it comes to China, the Legislature is seen as abdicating its foreign policy role to the Executive.

The Supreme Court has embraced the theory of the President as the sole organ, sole representative in international relations. Scholars have analyzed this hypothesis to death arguing that there is no basis to limit the power to the President. Certainly, he alone implements policy but he acts with the Legislative, actually leads the latter, in formulating the same. This is a divided power which has become more Presidential only by default – because Congress has been silent. But not anymore.

Twist and shout. Congressman Gary Alejano has been hectoring the administration for the past two years. A “strategy of silence”? Finally, he gets face time with Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano at that House hearing. Cong. Alejano articulated the popular position against the government’s inaction, even now with bombers parked at our doorstep. He elicited a vital disclosure: we did file a diplomatic protest on, among others, the installation of missiles on Spratlys island and the harassment of our navy men on their resupply missions to Ayungin shoal by Chinese navy helicopters. It is unclear if the landing of the bombers on Paracel islands or the seizure of Sandy Cay were mentioned.

This is an administration partial to finding solutions quietly. They prefer not to shout. If this is their strategy choice, then it becomes our first option. But when the actions of the other party are even louder than shouts, then the strategy of silence becomes curious. How does one disguise as a protest something that is just whispered in confidence? Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio is right that without a vigorous objection, not only China but the entire community of nations may treat our inaction as consent or acquiescence.

NTH, NTF. PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde trotted out the immortal “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear”proposition to demonize those who would not freely embrace a National I.D. System. If you hear this from someone who questions your lack of a Facebook account, you dismiss it with a guffaw. But if uttered by the Nation’s top cop, the chilling effect is undeniable. Leave it to our law enforcement agencies to make the argument that only the guilty insist on privacy.

Dir. Gen. Albayalde at the helm of the PNP was supposed to be a public relations game changer. His disciplinarian streak was widely applauded even before his promotion. The PNP image problem would get its improvement. Non sequiturs like this just muddle the discussion instead of helping clarify issues.

A lot of the noise against the proposal is voiced by those who have trust issues with the authorities. To a nation already skeptical of the PNP’s capacity to respect privacy rights, this is an ill timed disconnect with the basic principle that guilt needs to be proved and is never presumed.




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