Saturday, October 02, 2004

The folly of legislative investigations

The folly of legislative investigations

Updated 10:43pm (Mla time) Oct 01, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the October 2, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

NOW that the new Congress has distributed its committee chairs among its favored members, you can expect them to start showing off again in the exercise of their right of legislative investigation. This is now expressly limited by the Constitution, but that is no hindrance to legislators who believe that this power is an opportunity for them to impress their constituents and the public in general. Many of them believe in their supposed abilities (supposed by them) as experienced cross-examiners and feel the people should know about their hidden talent.

The art of cross-examination is something that eludes even the most experienced lawyers as one of them demonstrated at the Joseph Estrada impeachment trial when he tried to catch a witness in a lie. The witness was too clever for him, however, and it was he who retreated with his reputation in tatters. But such humiliation does not intimidate our pretentious lawmakers, who believe that their election entitles them to act foolishly in the once august halls of Congress. Thus, you can expect them to ask the most stupid questions, and in the most pompous manner, to the hushed admiration of their “bakya” [low-class] admirers.

I do not include all the members of Congress in this observation, for there are indeed a goodly number of them who deserve the respect of the public. But they still constitute a small minority of the generally bungling roster that is a disgrace to the Filipino people. The trouble with the legislature is that all its members have an equal right to speak, even foolishly, and each of them may invoke parliamentary immunity to escape deserved punishment for his (or her) shameful conduct. Their language may be "propesterous," but they are the elect of the people whose voice is, in most cases, described sacrilegiously as the voice of God.

The power of legislative investigation used to be one of the most effective fund-raising schemes of the old Congress, an engine for malice of its less than worthy members, or at the very least, an opportunity for grandstanding. The Constitution now wisely lays down express restrictions to prevent its abuse, to wit, it must be conducted in aid of legislation, in accordance with pre-existing rules of procedure, and with proper respect for those attending or affected by it. Still, the power continues to be exercised with little regard for public sentiment and public funds.

In fairness, some notable legislative investigations have redounded to the public good by exposing and correcting irregularities. A memorable example was the probe of the purchase of the Tambobong-Buenavista estate for which Congress appropriated P400,000 to whom the witness Jean Arnault could not remember paying; he was, for his forgetfulness, held in contempt of the Senate and ordered imprisoned indefinitely until his memory improved. (Whatever happened to him?)

Other investigations have not been as significant or even serious. One recalls with amusement the investigation of the so-called Brunei beauties, the scrape of the NCAA basketball players, the non-admission by a Catholic university of a sexy starlet who made a sensational personal appearance in Congress, and the alleged unhealthy processing of “taho” [bean curd]. Only recently, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the committee on labor employment and human resources, investigated the employment of prostitutes and their congressional customers who had so cheapened the legislature.

While these investigations were taking place, the national economy continued to plummet, peace and order deteriorated, and graft and corruption increased on all levels of the government.

There are two legislative investigations I have followed with keen interest that have produced exactly nothing to date. The first is the Panfilo Lacson investigation that was begun three years ago and is still on indefinite hold today. The other is the investigation of noise pollution by the airplanes flying over the Merville subdivision, where I live, and other neighboring subdivisions in Parañaque city.

The investigation of Lacson by three Senate committees was concluded on Sept. 5, 2001, and was calendared by majority floor leader Loren Legarda for deliberation by the Senate plenary several times. It was blocked as many times, the last by Senator Tito Sotto, until Legarda herself joined the opposition. Legarda and Sotto and Senator Robert Barbers, the chair of the lead investigating committee, are no longer in the Senate, and the Lacson case is now in rigor mortis.

The Blue Ribbon Committee that investigated the intrusion of the noisy airplanes received the solemn promise of the Air Transportation Office to limit their flights between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily, but we are still awakened by these nuisances at 5 a.m. or even earlier, and on Sundays too. We have complained to Senator Joker P. Arroyo, the committee chair, but even he seems to be powerless against the owners of Cebu Pacific Air and Air Philippines, who must be untouchable. So how about us ordinary citizens of Merville in our besieged and defenseless area? We are expendable.

And so another Congress has begun (and recessed), and the comedy continues.


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