DO NOT LET CONGRESS GET AWAY WITH PAYOLA

Walden Bello
Akbayan National Chairperson
7 June 00

Since Reps. Etta Rosales and Renato Magtubo exposed their receipt of P500,000 on April 12 in connection with the Omnibus Power Bill, little has been done in Congress to answer these disturbing questions: Where did the money come from and what was it for? Who accepted the money and what did they give in return? Do transactions like this regularly occur in Congress?

From day one, Reps. Rosales and Magtubo have called for an independent investigative body to examine the issue, on the premise that those whose involvement are in question cannot investigate themselves. Instead, they were summoned by the Ethics Committee as the subjects of an internal probe. Reps. Ernesto Herrera, Heherson Alvarez and Jackie Enrile filed separate resolutions calling for an investigative body. These resolutions were junked by the Committee on Rules without discussion, without the presence of the authors. The House leadership meanwhile, has ignored the issue altogether. It seems that Speaker Villar and the majority are more preoccupied with their preparations for the next elections than with exercising their leadership over the Lower House. The Senate, meanwhile, has been rushing the approval of their version of the Power Bill, the very piece of legislation tainted by the payola scam. We cannot help but wonder why.

The payola issue is not just another scandal. It showed how laws are made in our legislature: on the basis of money politics and at the expense of national interest.

It also showed that our democratic institutions remain weak and vulnerable. There is little transparency in the legislative process and little accountability on the part of our legislators. There is a pronounced lack of mechanisms and venues for internal checks and balances. Congress has an Ethics Committee, but no Code of Ethics. This very same body, the supposed body for internal inquiries, has been trampling on established procedures regarding resolutions lodged before it.

Those who have rejected the idea of an investigative body argue that it undermines the “independence” of the legislature as a co-equal branch of government. What alternatives have they put forward to resolve the issue? Nothing much, except that they be allowed to “investigate” themselves. What they want, it appears, is for us to forget that the payola scam ever happened and that they should be allowed to go on with their old, merry ways.

With their outright rejection of legal, feasible means to get to the bottom of the matter, they have squandered their chance to prove their integrity and demonstrate their desire for genuine reforms. If our congressmen are opposed to an honest, transparent and accountable legislature, what do they stand for? If they have nothing to hide, what are they afraid of?

We in AKBAYAN! call on all concerned and responsible citizens to take our lawmakers to task over this issue. If our congressmen refuse to clean up and reform the institution they work in, we must compel them. Hold your representatives accountable! Pressure the congressmen of your district to support the bid for an independent investigative body. Write to them in congress, in their district offices, register your protest in public. Two brave and sensible lawmakers have come out to lead the way to change in our legislature. Let us support them.#

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