Closed-door bicams are illegal, immoral
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The sinister conduct of Congress bicameral committee conferences has got to change. It illegally, immorally breaches constitutional majority rule and transparency.

 Consisting of a dozen or so senators and congressmen, a “bicam” reconciles conflicting details of Senate and House bills. But it is called the third legislative chamber because of its power totally to alter – behind closed doors – public enactments. Often the Senate and House panelists are unannounced. More so, the gatecrashing lawmakers with vested interests to promote. Deliberations are secret; minutes, if any, are cryptic. Whispered favors are sought, and horse-trading ensues. After which, the consolidated version, no longer recognizable by the bill authors, is fed to the Senate and House plenaries for separate ratification.

That was how, in the TRAIN-1 bicam, last-minute lobbyists were able to lower the sales tax on luxury vehicles than cheaper models. How too the ban on non-biodegradable substances in laundry powders was watered down. Or how election campaign deposits and withdrawals were exempted from the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s suggested reform of the bicam is timely. He wants it done this week, with the conference committee on the 2019 national budget.

That budget is laden with outlawed pork barrels. On Lacson’s push, senators had scrapped P75 billion inserted into the Dept. of Public Works’ outlay without its knowledge. Suspicion is rife that congressmen would strive to sneak the amount back into their districts, broken down into unidentifiable tidbits. That’s in addition to the P2.4-billion pork slabs granted to each of a hundred favored congressmen – admitted by the House Majority Leader no less. Plus, P60 million each for the 196 other congressmen and P8 billion for selected senators.

Lacson wants transparency, even opening the bicam to media – all for accountability. Every proposed amendment and proponent shall be recorded. No more whispers, winks, nudges.

Lacson is pessimistic, though. Expecting bicam panelists to resist reforms, he says the proceedings could be “bloody.”

There’s a way for voters to get even with the incorrigibly sinister, though. Name them, shame them, junk them in Election 2019.

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Today 85 percent of Muslim Mindanao would vote for expanded autonomy, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forecasts. Elected officials of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), along with presidential appointees, will comprise an 80-man Bangsamoro Transition Authority. The BTA will have executive and legislative powers, under an interim chief minister. It shall take on the powers over natural resources and economic activities. In May 2022 a regular parliament shall be elected in a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). For 40 years a separatist force, the MILF will try its hand at governing the BTA and later the BARMM.

That’s the easy part. The road to peace is rocky with contentious issues.

For one, the Sultanate of Sulu opposes the BARMM and wants sub-state status under a federal government. Supporting it is the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Nur Misuari, consisting of Taosug from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan. Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan II is campaigning for “no” to BARMM.

Aware of Misuari’s disinterest, President Rodrigo Duterte is to offer him something else. Misuari had tried autonomy before, as ARMM governor in 1998-2001. His and the Sultanate’s desire for sub-statehood has deep historical roots, reminds Prof. Julkipli Wadi of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies. Peace brokers would do well to study the reasons behind the “invasion” of Lahad Datu, Sabah by the Royal Army of the Sultanate and MNLF forces in 2013. The Sultanate considers Sabah its possession. Perhaps a first step in enticing the Taosug into a BARMM is to have a Malaysia-style rotational symbolic head of state.

As contentious is the MILF’s decommissioning of 20,000 firearms, with corresponding number of fighters. Livelihood is not an automatic reason to give up arms. Those ex-rebels have personal long arms, which they’d likely keep until assured of non-aggression by neighbors. And neighbors could mean members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, bandits, terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf, and private armies of politicos.

To hold on to their feudal reign, traditional pols are expected to band together in the May election against MILF candidates. It is not far-fetched for them to pay off other armed groups to disrupt MILF peace efforts. To avert that, Duterte can unleash the Armed Forces on the side of the MILF.

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The rags-to-richest-Filipino story of Henry Sy Sr. inspires millions to emulate him. Hard work and soft heart were basic ingredients in his success. From shoes to department stores, malls to real estate, banks to infrastructures, he towered among the best in the Philippines and Asia.

Sy was the tallest tree, with the farthest-reaching branches in the forest. His passing leaves a huge, seemingly un-fillable hole in the canopy.

There is one consolation, perhaps. Through that gap will gush in sunlight, to continue to nourish with life’s lessons the millions of Sy’s admirers.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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