MANILA, Philippines – Seventy-nine members, or nearly one-third of the House of Representatives, are “graduating” from Congress on June 30, 2010 after the May elections.
Of the 79, 71 are on their third and last term as House members. They will have served their constituents for nine consecutive years by the time they exit from the legislature.
The remaining eight have either been forced by circumstance to no longer seek a continuation of their job as lawmakers, have chosen to stay out of Congress, or have decided to seek other elective posts.
The “graduating” House members will have nine more session days between the middle of next month and first week of February to attend before fading away.
Of the lawmakers existing from Congress, the most prominent are Speaker Prospero Nograles, his predecessor former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Majority Leader Arthur Defensor.
Nograles, representative of Davao City’s first district, is running for mayor of his city. His son Karlo is seeking to replace him.
De Venecia, who represents Pangasinan’s fourth district, is taking a break from politics. His wife, whose friends and relatives call Manay Gina, has filed her candidacy for his congressional seat.
On the other hand, Defensor, representative of Iloilo’s third district, is running for governor of his province.
Unlike other politicians who do not fade away from the political scene, Representatives Edno Joson of Nueva Ecija’s first district and Proceso Alcala of Quezon’s second district have chosen to discontinue their political career.
“I am now bored with and tired of my job here,” Joson, who is just on his first term and could seek two more terms if he chose to, told The STAR last week at the House session hall.
“Nothing has changed since my last membership in this chamber 15 years ago. Like before, most members are still more preoccupied with pork barrel funds than helping our people lift themselves from poverty. Congress has failed to make a difference in the lives of our people,” he said.
The Josons, who have dominated Nueva Ecija politics for years, have asked Edno to run for governor but he refused.
He said he would continue helping his constituents through some non-government organizations.
Like Rep. Joson, Alcala has chosen to retire from politics early. He is just on his second term and is qualified for a third term.
“I want to show to our people that you can retire while at the peak of your political career, that there is life after politics,” he said. His son Irvin is seeking to replace him.
Alcala has helped farmers in the Mt. Banahaw area transform their farmlands into profitable vegetable plantations. His constituents are now growing high-value crops and are even producing strawberries, which before could be grown only in Benguet because of the cool climate.
Through his personal and pork barrel funds, he has also built vegetable trading centers in his district, where Metro Manila traders source their supply.
He said he would continue helping his constituents as a private citizen.
For Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” Albano III of Isabela’s first district, it’s a case of the son giving way to the father. Rodolfo Sr., a former congressman who retired from the Energy Regulatory Commission a few months ago, coveted his son’s congressional seat.
The younger Albano, who is on his second term like Alcala, is running for vice governor of his province.
Like Rodito, another first-term House member, Salvacion Ponce Enrile of Cagayan’s first district, gave way to her husband, Jack, a former three-term congressman.
Jack’s father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is seeking reelection.
A third first-term House member, Lani Cayetano of Taguig, has filed her candidacy for mayor of her city. She is the wife of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Still another first-term congresswoman, Nikki Prieto Teodoro of Tarlac, has chosen to help her husband, former Defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro, campaign for president. Gibo is standard-bearer of the ruling Lakas-Kampi.
Had she chosen to seek a second term, Rep. Teodoro would have faced Gibo’s uncle Henry Cojuangco.
Representatives Teofisto Guingona III of Bukidnon and Risa Hontiveros of the party-list group Akbayan, who are on their second term and are qualified for a last term as House members, have decided to seek senatorial seats under the Liberal Party.
Unlike Hontiveros, Representatives Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna and Liza Maza of Gabriela are on their last term. They are independent senatorial candidates who have been adopted by Sen. Manuel Villar’s Nacionalista Party.
Several third-term House members are running for governor. They include Hermina Ramiro of Misamis Occidental, Mujiv Hataman of Basilan, Abraham Mitra of Palawan, and Emmylou Talino-Mendoza of Cotabato.
Nograles and Ramiro, who chairs the committee on accounts which manages the House budget, will be remembered by the more than 3,000 employees of the chamber for giving them P60,000 last week, their biggest ever Christmas bonanza.
Two other House members, Alvin Sandoval of Malabon-Navotas and Dan Fernandez of Laguna, have bowed out early. They were unseated by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).
Sandoval lost his seat to Jaye Lacson Noel, whom the tribunal declared as having won over him in the 2007 elections by just 542 votes. Noel has filed her candidacy for representative of Malabon. Malabon and Navotas have been constituted into two separate districts.
Fernandez was ousted on a question of residency. Last week, it was reported that the Supreme Court has reversed the HRET decision stripping him of his congressional seat.
The oldest House member, Pablo Garcia of Cebu’s second district, is seeking a second term. Garcia, former governor of his province, turned 84 last Sept. 25.
32 more sectoral reps
In September, the SC likewise acknowledged 30 more winning sectoral representatives that will be added to the 238-man House of Representatives, thereby increasing the total number of congressmen to 268.
To date, there are around 50 party-list representatives while the rest are congressmen representing legislative districts, both of whom enjoy P70 million pork barrel allocations every year, for soft (livelihood programs) and hard (roads) projects.
Cha-cha, martial law
The entry of 2009 in the House of Representatives was relatively silent, with the sole exception of the usual and perpetually divisive Charter change, but it ended with a big bang of martial law in war-zone Maguindanao that apparently went pfft.
The two houses of Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – were then forced to convene in a historic joint session, a first since framers of the 1987 Constitution made it almost certain that no sitting President can declare martial law easily.
But while it may be discretionary on the part of the executive department, a review of the constitutional provisions may be necessary, if and when the Charter is opened to revisions, because Proclamation 1959 was issued based on “looming,” not actual, rebellion.
Also, the likelihood of any revocation, in the face of the administration-controlled House that would dilute the 23-member Senate in a joint voting, was not forthcoming, not to mention the passive Supreme Court, all 15 justices of whom were Arroyo appointees.
In the final analysis, and just like any pending measure in the legislature, it will always boil down to the tyranny of numbers, a numbers game pure and simple. In reality, administration legislators always outnumber their opposition counterparts.
“One hundred and forty-seven (147) votes is very difficult to achieve. I think that’s pretty difficult really. If you ask me, that’s the fortune teller in me,” Speaker Nograles told reporters in a briefing, before the joint session resumed.
The figure is the vote that senators and congressmen need to revoke Proclamation 1959, which is taken from 23 senators and 268 House members sitting in joint session. It means both figures should be added, divided by two – then a majority should be one-half plus one.
And so martial law took effect and was lifted within a week, or until Dec. 11. When it was so obvious that no rebellion took place, after arrests and seizures were made, and as soon as the SC grace period was about to lapse, President Arroyo lifted Proclamation 1959.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who opposed martial rule during the time of the late strongman Marcos, claimed President Arroyo’s decision to lift the presidential order was a “good move” since there was no rebellion at all in Maguindanao.
“It saved the government from embarrassment because no matter what the authorities say, there was no constitutional basis for its proclamation. It saved the Constitution from being further mangled by the clearly capricious resort to martial rule,” he said.
Efforts to amend the Constitution – which is normal under any administration – have likewise been made, but this time without the much-opposed people’s initiative that the SC struck down, due to lack of enabling law, among others.
Allies of Mrs. Arroyo, particularly Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, tried the version constituent assembly that will purportedly call on other members of the upper chamber to a joint session, for purposes of introducing amendments to the charter.
But as expected, this did not sit well, even among the proponents themselves.
Villafuerte and Nograles issued almost identical measures, with only the mode as distinction. Nograles’ bill wanted Charter amendments done via the legislative mill, or the passage of a law.
In the end, Villafuerte’s Resolution 1109 which the opposition say is just a sentiment of the House, and Nograles’ House Bill 737, both ended up in the backburner. The Speaker’s pet bill aims to modify the ban that prohibits foreigners from owning lands or local firms.
But Arroyo allies nonetheless succeeded in pushing Charter change, although by a more friendly mode, this time via constitutional convention which is more acceptable to critics and senators, because it will be implemented after 2010, after Mrs. Arroyo has stepped down.
La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, sponsored House Bill 6975 that calls for the election of delegates to the constitutional convention who will propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
The con-con proposal has a P2.084-billion budget and covers one year to finish amending the Charter after delegates will be elected in October 2010.
Under the proposal, there will be 219 delegates representing the existing congressional districts and each delegate will receive a per diem of P2,000 for every day of actual attendance in the convention or any of its committees, with 20 working days a month.
The proposal said that a delegate present at all con-con meetings will receive a monthly salary of P40,000. Aside from the basic pay, a delegate is also entitled to a monthly P110,000 allowance to cover his or her traveling expenses, networking, and supplies.
The P20.084-billion allocation can be broken down as follows:
• P884.081 billion in personal services for delegates and the five members of his or her staff;
• P174.559 million in personal services for secretariat officials and employees;
• P617.500 million for maintenance and other operating expenses (includes office rental, public hearing expenses, office supplies, printing, utilities, and others);
• P108.600 million for capital outlay (computers, printers, scanners, furniture, and others); and
• P300 million in contingency funds. – With Delon Porcalla –Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star)