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.