Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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HOWIE SEE IT: What’s Cooking In Congress?

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

Not two months ago, the House of Representatives was divided over the spectacle of power-plays for the Speakership position, which showed the cracks in the armor of Duterte’s allies. Though the quarrel for relevance showed Congressman Velasco come out on top, the reorganization of the House since then has only confirmed our suspicions – that politicking is our leaders’ main priority, even in a pandemic. While our country clamors for representatives who will prioritize stabilizing our economy and health sector, we’re instead witnessing Velasco’s allies claiming “dibs” on their preferred seats of power.

Before Congress takes their Christmas break, the Speaker has now chosen to appoint nine more deputy speakers, for a total of twenty-eight deputy speakers — believed to be the most number of deputy speakers the country has ever had. Given that deputy speakers enjoy several perks, one of which is an additional annual budget separate from the regular office budget they receive as Congresspeople, the addition of nine more brings cause for concern. A report made by the Commission on Audit in 2017 showed that the total expense of the fourteen deputy speakers in office during that time was P4.89 billon, or approximately P349,285,714.29 each. If almost five billion was spent by just fourteen deputy speakers, how many more billions can we expect the twenty-eight to spend?

The idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” has been used to describe circumstances where the end result suffers due to too many people involved, or trying to take control of a situation. How, then, can we move forward into the new normal, with so many representatives in the kitchen, wanting to meet their own needs? Will these twenty-eight cooks help address growing and crippling debt? Will they help Congress prioritize Filipino jobs instead of catering to China?

Under the House Rules, the duties of deputy speakers, as the second highest-ranking officials of the House, are to assume the duties and powers of the Speaker in the absence of the latter. They may also perform such other duties and functions as may be assigned or delegated by the Speaker, among others. But, does having more deputy speakers equate to more efficiency in the House, justifying the appointments? Or is this nothing more than mere political accommodation?

While the Filipino people struggle with loss of employment, the death of family members, and attempting to financially recover from the past year, it is insensitive and ostentatious to increase the budget of twenty-eight Congresspeople. Every moment in session needs to be focused entirely on efforts to rebuild our country: ensuring that our children’s distance-learning is effective; compensating frontliners fairly; providing safe and affordable transportation; and developing social amelioration programs. Instead, time and money is wasted by the leadership, as they reward the loyal by transferring power to them.

It is of common knowledge that taxes are the lifeblood of the State, through which the government and its agencies continue to operate and with which the State effects its functions FOR THE PEOPLE. Budget allocations should be made having the welfare of the PEOPLE in mind.

Public office is a public trust. Those engaged in the public service must SERVE THE PEOPLE by putting the people’s interests before their own interests. The appointment of twenty-eight deputy speakers is excessive, if not downright unnecessary. It is self-serving and it doesn’t serve the people. Worse, it will only result in additional budget allocation. Budget which could have been allocated to more vital and pressing legislations committed to economic recovery, education, or our health sector. The additional deputy speakers is clearly a political act that only increased expenditures with less delivery of services to the people.

The country is knee-deep in debt. In fact, the children of our children are already in debt. Again, we have more debt earmarked for the purchase of Covid vaccines. This is partly due to the obvious reason that the Congresspeople would rather divide the spoils and spend precious taxpayers money on their own power play. It is high time the government start cutting on unnecessary expenses and focusing on only proper and vital legislations. With twenty-eight deputy speakers in the kitchen, what is congress cooking up?

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