Executive Privilege, Decorum, & Congressional Circus

By The WindChime

Aren't we grateful we still have a senate, or do we regret we still have a bicameral legislature?

These recent days, it is "unusually" busy for both the lower house and the senate because aside from conducting budget hearings, they are also conducting a probe into the "alleged" irregularities surrounding the multibillion-peso national communication infrastructure project called the National Broadband Network (NBN) "entered into" between the Philippine government and the Chinese government. Aside from the NBN probe, the senate is also reopening the investigation on the illegal wire tapping operation involving the ISAFP (Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines), which some people likened to the Watergate scandal in the United States. These two investigations now add to the congress' regular burden of law making.

While this "heavy" workload on the shoulders of congress is "good" training for the neophyte lawmakers (which come "appropriately" at the relatively early days in their term of office), this workload could also be a potential stress generator to at least some of the senior legislators. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some of them are maybe "unaware" that their level of decorum lowered significantly as they lost appropriate tact in their verbal exchange with the respondents and witnesses during long stressful hours of congressional hearings (as being televised nationwide). Some observers considered those behaviors amusing, but in congressional inquiries where most of the participants are professionals, it should be deemed improper.

If congressional inquiries are conducted for the purpose of aiding legislation, then it should not be used for political purposes or for ventilating personal grudges between legislators and respondents. Otherwise respondents and witnesses will continue to be indifferent and ignore or evade congressional hearing invitations or summons. If there is such a thing as "intellectual arrogance", legislators should have none of that, or at least suppress it.

We hope our legislators will be tactful enough in dealing with the respondents and witnesses. Congressional inquiries are not court of law hearings. Perhaps it will help if once in a while legislators will put themselves in the shoes of the respondents; won't they desire for a little dignity at least? If in a democracy "One is presumed innocent until proven guilty", then let it be so -- especially in congressional inquiries.

To the respondents and to the witnesses, please be respectful of the authority of our legislators. How else can the truth be ferret out completely if you keep invoking executive privileges when some specific questions are asked? This would only increase the people's suspicion and fuels their desire to take matters into their own hands if a deadlock develops out of this non-disclosure of information.

Do we want our legislators to be crafting inadequate laws based on wrong or insufficient information? Do we want them to file charges against wrong individuals based on inaccurate or insufficient congressional inquiry findings? If we believe that the truth shall set people free, then why hide the truth? If the truth does not involve national security, then why not disclose it? If it is self-incriminating, humbly admit it and be free of self-condemnation brought about by guilt. If you truly care for the nation, then disclosing those information that need to be disclosed is the only right thing you can do -- not just disclosing only those information that you want (or other people want you) to disclose.

We all make mistakes, but only very few of us are willing to repent and face the correction of justice. If justice is God's idea, then we can be sure He instituted it for our good in the long run. Unwillingness to submit to justice is a manifestation of spiritual immaturity. Do we think we can escape God's correction when we sin? If not, then what do you think is the best and most logical thing to do? The harder we refuse to submit to God's correction, the harder the chastening will become. The longer we resist, the longer we suffer.

Can we afford that the nation be forced (because of frustration) to try to resort once again to the wrong and ugly extra-constitutional means of settling major national issues? Have we not learned our lesson yet? Perhaps some people in the top levels of government are still in denial concerning how silently tense the nation already is because of these major issues besetting the nation. But before it is too late, the nation begs you to please do the right thing.

The Filipino people are so sick and so tired of corruption especially when it is happening in the government. We cannot afford anymore to have our public officials of high ranks be charged of plunder (like what happened to our former president). But perhaps everything is not yet too late. Who knows that (instead of withholding the truth by "abusing" the executive privilege) a "sacrificial disclosure" by some of the key witnesses and respondents in the investigations might spare the nation from another possible major political instability (even if the disclosure has unpleasant consequences for a few persons -- but which are more preferable than that of a major national political crisis like Edsa II or Edsa III)?

The entire nation wants to find out the truth, and we hope the investigations would not be wasted and degenerate into some kind of a "congressional circus" as what happened to many of the major congressional investigations done in the past (including that of the impeachment proceeding of the former president).

Responsible leadership does not consist only of the ability to lead the people when things are going well, but it also includes the humility to be accountable to the people when mistakes are made. No amount of economic progress will ever quench a nation's thirst for truth. In fact, there can be no real enjoyment of progress while on the other hand there is truth that is being suppressed.

Now that a major controversy has risen out of the NBN project, some people considered it as a project that is in search of reasons why it is pursued. But on second thought, it could also be the other way around. Maybe some people are just seeking for reasons so that the project may not be continued. In my personal opinion, this project could have been a good project only if it was done honestly (had it not because of the very serious allegation of overpricing for kickbacks, allegation of "attempted" briberies, and allegation of illegal procedures).

This NBN project involves very high level of communication technology, and no wonder why most of the legislators have a hard time conversing on the deep technical aspects of it accurately. This situation could greatly prejudice the outcome of the investigation. How can the legislators accurately justify their opinion against the project when most of them lack the technical competence to evaluate it comprehensively? It is easy for the observing people of the nation to be influenced by the opinion of the legislators especially that this project is alleged to be anomalous.


The Greatest Want of Our Nation

By Eleazar M. Famorcan

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:9-11)

My editor and I once interviewed a man whose noteworthy features include his being short in height but long in wisdom.

You probably know who I'm talking about -- the popular former health secretary and now senator Juan Flavier, who once attempted to kiss a pretty lady on the cheek on the halls of the old Senate and found that all he could reach was her bellybutton.

Our visit with him in his government office was made years ago, and the details as well as the highlights of our hour-long conversation -- except those that found their way on the pages of our publication -- have blurred from memory.

During the quick interview I didn't have the chance to see much of his inner person. I didn't even have the occasion to catch his lower limbs dangle from his office chair as had been my amusing privilege with many other diminutive individuals whose feet, when they sit, don't reach the floor.

But I remember something I learned from this fellow who can straightforwardly claim he is a wee bit taller than 4 feet 11 inches. And who also is -- I must say -- short on earthly possessions (which some people find odd for one so well-positioned) but long on virtue. [Recently he was reported to be among the poorest of the present batch of solons.]

There is this interesting parable he wrote for a Manila broadsheet ["Barrio Breeze", Philippine Star]. The parable -- which could be about you and me--told of a person known throughout his locality and beyond for his honesty. He was extremely honest that people trusted him more than any other person, and even more than the bank and the church. People monikered him "the saint".

In time, as tribute to his integrity, this incorruptible man was handpicked by the governor to guard a roadside checkpoint which is famous -- rather, infamous -- for rampant bribery. The only way to clean up corruption was to put an honest person at the helm.

On his first day on the job, someone offered him a bribe of several thousand pesos to allow some cargo to pass without examination. A secret bank account would be established in his assumed name. He refused.

The next day and beyond, people visited his home in an attempt to corrupt him. He stood his ground. He rejected under-the-table money, and returned small token gifts because he didn't want to be influenced. Soon a new moniker was given to him: "walang lagay, walang lakad, walang lusot".

But the bribers would not give up. As months passed by, the bribe bait multiplied. Grease money doubled, tripled, quadrupled. The honest man, true to himself, consistently refused any and all offers.

Then one day, he appeared before the governor with a handwritten letter. He handed it to him saying, "I'm tendering my irrevocable resignation."

"How can you do that?" the surprised governor said. "You are doing well. Integrity and honesty have come back to our place. You are my most honest man. No one could buy you for a price. Why?"

With bowed head, the man replied, "They are about to reach my price!"

Many years ago, a man who made his life a protest against what he thought of as a corrupt society, went about Athens with a lantern in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man -- but never found one.

I'm no Greek philosopher like Diogenes, and I prefer to live in a house rather than in a large tub, but I like to think there are still honest persons hereabouts.

In my book, there are two kinds of honest people.

One, those who know when to flee from temptation, to get away before they get bought -- or caught in its clutches. They are those honest enough to accept that in certain situations, they may not be honest.

Then, there are those who resist temptation. According to a lady with extraordinary insights [Ellen G. White, Education], they are men and women

who will not be bought or sold,...
who in their inmost souls are true and honest,...
who do not fear to call sin by its right name,...
whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole,...
who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.

The want of such men and women, she said, is "the greatest want of the world."

So be it.

Eleazar M. Famorcan is the associate editor of Health & Home magazine, "the national journal for better living", a monthly publication in the Philippines.


"Guilty Beyond Reasonable Doubt"

By The WindChime

"Guilty beyond reasonable doubt." This is the verdict of the Sandigan Bayan on the plunder case charge against our nation's former president. It is the first time in the history of corruption in the Philippines that a highest ranking public official is convicted by a court of law of a crime that many of us may also be found guilty of if we too were in such public office.

While it is unprecedented and historic, it must not be considered alone as a victory for the nation (as what some people proudly conveyed), but also it must be considered a loss for the nation because we have sentenced no less than a former president who could have been a better public servant if only some of us had been persistent and brave enough to confront him while he was yet in the verge of erring while he was still in office. Can we afford to have another case like this in the future? If not, then what should we citizens ought to be doing now before it would be too late?

Conviction is perhaps a good thing, but only to the ears of those who accuse. Pardon is perhaps a bad thing, but only to the ears of those who accuse. Aren't we glad that death penalty was abolished in our nation, or do you regret it has been removed? Should we place life and death under the power of the judge's tongue? Justice is one thing, vengeance is another thing. But too much adversarial politics is a worse thing.

Often we hear lawyers say, "It is better to wrongly free a guilty person than to wrongly convict an innocent man." In some similar sense, how very hard it is to defend and justify a person if he is truly guilty beyond any shadow of doubt. What could an advocate possibly do to justify his client? What could he give in exchange for his client's freedom? What possible motive will the advocate has just in order to even think of doing a noble service which is beyond his normal obligation or call of duty?

Genuine love of God that produces genuine love for fellowmen. This is the only motive that produces genuine zeal for the good of others. And this is exactly what Christ did to mankind before the court of heaven against the Devil's accusation. With mankind's sin of rebellion (the ultimate state of disobedience which the Devil caused -- just like his sin), mankind brought upon himself the inherent penalty of sin, which is spiritual death (a state of total ignorance and separation from God). Christ not only became mankind's advocate but also mankind's savior by taking upon Himself the penalty of sin, which is death, so that mankind will live. And because of Christ's deed, He turned mankind's fall into a great testimony of Love and in effect condemning the Devil of his sin that he so proudly refuse to repent of, because what the Devil is rebelling against God is God's absolute law of Love. After going through sin and all of its consequences and then experiencing the depth of God's love, mercy, & justice, what sinner would not walk the narrow Way of Life instead of straying in the wide way of death? Listen to this verse: Do you despise the riches of God's goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Nothing will ever separate us from God's love. Listen to Paul in his letter to the Romans:

For I [Paul] am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

And the following verse explains the root of corruption:

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:5-11)

We may be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but because of Christ's deed we are worthy of forgiveness beyond any reason, so that we may live our lives anew for the Lord -- and this is real victory.

Euphemism in the face of guilt is like taking poison hoping for a cure.