A congressman’s birthday and Palabra de Honor

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Whew! I thought the House speakership drama would last until Nov. 16, 2020 with what appeared to be a shrewd but masterful political maneuvering of the former speaker. He suspended the session 11 days earlier than the Oct. 17, 2020 official legislative calendar break, in a bid to avoid the term-sharing agreement that would have taken place on Oct. 14.

Senators were naturally disappointed because the lower chamber was supposed to be working double-time on the 2021 General Appropriations Bill so that it could reach the Senate with enough time to prepare for plenary debates when session resumes in November. “Do not blame us,” said the Senate President. With the lower house on an unscheduled recess, the ensuing delay might result to the reenactment of the 2020 General Appropriations Act. Certainly, this would be disastrous to the government’s COVID-19 response next year as the 2020 budget was not designed to meet the extraordinary requirements of this pandemic.

And for what? Apparently, Congressman Alan wanted to celebrate his birthday on Oct. 28 as sitting House Speaker, but the other Congressman Lord Allan was not amenable to moving the Oct. 14 deadline, invoking Palabra de Honor, as he also wanted to celebrate his birthday on Nov. 9 as the Speaker of the House. Had the true Boss of both not intervened by calling a special session, we could have witnessed a birthday party that may have derailed a national budget. Sanamagan!

But we all know there is more than just a birthday celebration here. If the former Speaker really wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday as Speaker of the House, that would have been considered in 2019 when the President brokered the term-sharing agreement. Instead of 15-21, it could have been 16-20 or even 17-19 so that the 50th birthday party would have been secured. Why enter into a gentleman’s agreement on a 15-21 term-sharing only to do a volte-face later? Did he understand the virtue of Palabra de Honor with the impulse of a congressman rather than the integrity of a gentleman? Well, he said sorry for “misunderstanding” the President. Speciously, he thought the Boss wanted him to finish the budget deliberations before turning over the post, even after the Oct. 14 deadline. But if that was his understanding, why suspend the session precipitously?

Is there truth to the allegation that the scripted emotional preemptive offer of resignation, immediately rejected by 184 congressmen, was actually a prelude to ultimately disregarding the term-sharing arrangement? It is absurd to think that the budget cannot be passed properly under a different Speaker. In fact, it was passed already on third reading last Friday and I heard it will be transmitted to the Senate by Oct. 28 (Alan’s birthday) so that the Senate could deliberate on it earlier on Nov. 9 (Lord Allan’s birthday), a week earlier than the Nov. 16 resumption of session as per the Senate’s legislative calendar. I like the script, or is it purely coincidental? I am sure it will be an extremely happy birthday party for the new Speaker, but with face masks and social distancing please!

It was mentioned that the Oct. 14 date was set on the assumption that by then, the 2021 General Appropriations Act would have been enacted already. Unfortunately for some, the pandemic changed all schedules and priorities, even that of Congress, but it did not stop Oct. 14 from coming. I just wonder what happened to those who supported the former Speaker by rejecting his offer of resignation on Sept. 30, yet voted for the new Speaker only several days later. Well, they are congressmen too and they may not be bound by the unwritten code of Palabra de Honor.

To begin with, our political system is principally based on personalities and political conveniences, instead of clear-cut policies and ideologies as in matured democracies around the world. Historically, Congress has to reorganize to align with the President. Thus, when the President called for the special session to tackle the budget, the signal was sent out. While Congress is supposedly a separate co-equal branch of government, there is no absolute separation because of the budget. The task of Congress is to look for the source of the money, but the identification of the projects to be funded is done by the executive branch. Particularly, congressmen, being district representatives, may be interested in the projects of the DPWH, DOH and DSWD. The chances of bringing home the bacon to their “expecting” constituents, and therefore enhance the prospect of re-election, would be upped if they are supportive of the President.

Indeed, this 2021 budget is worth much more than any Palabra de Honor. With the national elections coming in 2022, the 2021 budget will plot the political future of our congressmen in terms of pet projects and every advantage that comes with it, material or otherwise. For all we know, the original design was for the 2021 budget to help someone get to Malacañang in 2022. It might have backfired or perhaps it was not really meant to be.

Is it karma? Instead of ending a term as a respected Speaker and be remembered as a true statesman who sacrificed his personal interest in the name of Palabra de Honor, he would have to live with the fact that he only “resigned” irrevocably after being ousted unceremoniously. Last I heard, he was calling on the new Speaker to also fulfill his Palabra de Honor not to replace the sitting committee chairs. Oops, the new Speaker is a congressman too. He will replace them and put his own supporters where he wants them to be. Was he not the one who said at the height of the speakership contest in 2019 that there was no agreement on term-sharing, which is divisive and will only weaken the speakership? That is the congressman’s Palabra de Honor.

Certainly, it is not the end of the world for a young and gifted politician. So have a Happy Birthday too, notwithstanding this debacle, Sir Congressman!

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