Sen. Imee fooled?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

It is not April Fools Day yet. But to Senator Imee Marcos, she claims being fooled, not just once but twice. This she found out belatedly, one after the other. She confessed falling victim to a “web of lies” spun allegedly by the brains behind the Charter change (Cha-cha) through people’s initiative (PI) mode.

Following the sudden emergence of signatures calling for PI in late December last year, questions were raised on the source of funding of the nationwide signature campaign. On Dec. 28 last year, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) signed the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that provided for a P5.768-trillion budget for the funding this year of the government’s National Expenditure Program (NEP).

The final version of the 2024 GAA was put together by the bicameral conference committee (bicam). Dubbed as the so-called “third Congress,” the bicam for the 2024 GAA was jointly chaired by Senate finance committee headed by Sonny Angara and Ako Bicol Rep. Zaldy Co for the House appropriations committee.

When reports started trickling out about a nationwide collection of PI signatures calling for Cha-cha, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada was among the first to call out against it. On Jan. 8, Sen. Estrada revealed reports reaching him about alleged bribery involved in the PI signature gathering. “It is unethical and illegal to solicit signatures of constituents to petition for Charter change moves in exchange for P100, in the guise of supposed people’s initiative. This practice clearly violates our laws and undermines the democratic process,” Sen. Estrada deplored.

“The people’s initiative is a constitutional right that should be exercised freely and without coercion,” he stressed. “Whoever is behind this sinister move to tinker with the 1987 Constitution should be investigated and prosecuted for engaging in such unlawful activity. The people’s trust in the democratic process must be protected and preserved.”

Following our legislative process, the bicam composed of senators and House members are designated to reconcile the differing provisions of the Senate and House versions of the same legislative measure. Through the years, the bicam has become powerful as the third chamber of Congress where compromises made behind-the-scene, the horse-trading and the wheeling-and-dealing are sealed.

In the particular case of Sen. Marcos, she is the Senate head of two of the finance committee’s sub-committees that vet and pass upon the annual GAA of assigned government agencies. As the chairperson of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, Sen. Imee defended the proposed 2024 budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). As the head also of the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, she handled the proposed 2024 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Initially, Sen. Imee took notice of reports about the Comelec’s P12-billion allocation in the 2024 GAA for the conduct of plebiscite, referendum, etc. The senators suspect the re-aligned budget for plebiscite was being reserved for the required holding of ratification of the amendments that would come out of Cha-cha this year.

Subsequently, Comelec Chairman George Garcia confirmed that he, too, was surprised where the P12 billion came from. Garcia recalled the Comelec’s 2024 proposed budget was even cut by P17 billion in both the Senate and the House versions. According to him, he later saw the Comelec got P12 billion in the 2024 GAA, apparently restored at the level of the bicam.

In the case of the DSWD, Sen. Imee questioned the P26.7-billion Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita Program (AKKAP) included in the “special provisions” allocated in the 2024 GAA. Attending the Senate public hearing on the PI, DSWD undersecretary Fatima Aliah Dimaporo testified that the AKKAP is “alien” and “foreign” to the agency because it did not originate from them. Sen. Imee earlier accused the office of Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez for allegedly distributing P20 million each to congressional districts to fund the PI signature campaign nationwide using the ayuda programs of various government agencies.

As lawmakers, Sen. Imee explained, they repose their trust and good faith in their fellow senators and congressmen. So they merely signed their approval on the enrolled bill of the 2024 GAA that the bicam passed upon. When she attended the bicam, she claimed, they merely posed for the usual “photo-op,” short for photo opportunity. But there was no more discussions on the finalized version of the 2024 GAA bill at all, she swore. This was to refute the digital signatures of Sen. Imee and other Senators who signed the “special provision” of the AKKAP in the 2024 GAA.

Sen. Imee and many of her fellow senators claim to be “surprised” by the other discoveries of alleged House “insertions” into the 2024 GAA.

The “insertions,” she found out, were drawn from cuts in pensions of government workers and retired military personnel as well as the budget of foreign-assisted projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Sen. Imee is no novice as a politician. After all, she served for three consecutive terms as Ilocos Norte governor (2010-2019). Previous to this, she was a three-term congresswoman of the second district of their home province. She is up for re-election for a second term at the Senate in the coming May 2025 mid-term elections.

Her allies, supporters, fans and even her worst critics look upon Sen. Imee as having the caliber of politics of her late father, deposed president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. So her being candid of being fooled by fellow politicians is kind of a lame reason for being deceived during the bicam for the 2024 GAA.

A take-off from the proverb, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” writer Stephen King added: “Fool me three times, shame on both of us.” After being tricked once, as the proverb tells us, one should learn from one’s mistakes and avoid being tricked in the same way again.

Unperturbed, the self-proclaimed “super Ate” of PBBM has been spilling the beans all over the place. Let’s make up an imaginary rebuttal of the House lawmakers to Sen. Imee: “Burn us once, shame on us. Burn us twice, shame on Sen. Imee.”

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