Illustration by Matthew Niel J. Hebrona

IT IS A chamber notoriously blighted in the public eye for harboring misfits no end. But House Speaker Prospero Nograles seemed far from affixing this piece of reality in his newest legislative design which pushes for additional warm bodies – 50 at that – in the traditionally quorum-challenged House of Representatives, given the need for “more congressional representation” by a Filipino population which has allegedly rose to 50 percent since the 1987 Constitution was promulgated.

The Nograles resolution, in mooting the enlistment of 50 more heads in the lower chamber, appears to re-define congressional accommodation nowadays, at least in the House of Representatives, by perhaps echoing the semantic brilliance of the late Senate President Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, who deemed politics in the light of “addition, not subtraction.”

For the record, the lower house today has 216 representatives voted directly into office by their respective constituents from each legislative district “apportioned among the country’s provinces and cities in accordance with population size,” according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report. Aside from the district congressmen, the house membership is also currently composed of 22 party-list solons representing various marginalized sectors as prescribed in the Constitution.

To pad the lawmakers’ roster either by re-drawing the gerrymandered boundaries of some congressional districts or increasing the number of party-list seats in the house, amid the financial nag of the times implies a mathematical problem more vexing than simple representational calculus. Applying the economics of public service in this side of the planet works, it follows that additional congressmen require additional pork barrel funds.

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As it stands today, a congressman far from just receiving a monthly stipend of P 35,000 is also entitled to several budgetary emoluments such as an annual P1-million foreign travel provision, and of course a yearly pork-barrel allocation amounting to P70 million – P20 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and P50 million as congressional allocation for public works projects in his district, according to a 2007 report from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

And what had taxpayers, from whom every congressman owes his mandate, gotten so far in return?

Nine laws, bannered by the third re-enactment of the annual national budget, the least since the House of Representatives re-opened in 1987. This is the disappointing output produced by our well-funded legislators during the 14th Congress’ first regular session. Records from the House of Representatives further show that most of the bills filed are of “local application,” underscoring our lawmakers’ proclivity toward parochial matters perhaps “in aid of re-election.”

Given our pampered legislators’ ineptitude, the question still begs: where will the lower house obtain the extra budgetary allotment to finance its 50 new members? Assuming that taxpayers’ money will be spared to fund the add-on congressmen’s undertakings, are the proponents and supporters of this measure willing to share even a thin slice of their beloved pork barrel funds to enhance the purse of their new colleagues? The answer, as proven by our dear congressmen’s vintage appetite for personal aggrandizement in various political occasions, except for a few humble and honest ones, barely redounds to the affirmative. How about spending more bucks just to conduct the election of these additional lawmakers?

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Further, by saying that the resolution will ensure a more adequate representation of all Filipinos (who now counts around 90 million) is to speak of interest articulation. But whose interest deserving representation are our dear congressmen bent on catering to at the plenary session? Saying that it is the general public reveals the kind of hypocritical nature that majority of our legislators today are known for with the way they repeatedly voted against public interest, most notably in keeping a corrupt chief executive in power.

The timing of such proposal is equally questionable. Given the proximity of the upcoming elections it cannot be hardly gainsaid that 50 souls can provide substantial numerical leverage as part of the majority’s pre-Charter Change preparations and other tongue-in-cheek ventures with Malacañang.

The House of Representatives for all intents and purposes has been a marketplace for selling cheap political loyalties to the highest bidder. Majority of our dear congressmen are representatives, yes, but oh, of the bureaucratic flab that has long swallowed the meaty wisdom of representative democracy.

With the way underperformance, aggravated by constant bickering and grandstanding among its members, has taken root in the lower house nowadays, expanding the flock of our dear congressmen will not do any favor for the Filipino people nor will it arrest the growing irrelevance of the highest law-making body in the land. Yet a few masochistic spirits may, in the days to come reconsider favoring the unfavorable. We should not be surprised.

This is after all a nation fond of sheltering reptiles from extinction. Good statesmen are this nation’s endangered species.

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We, the citizenry should reject Nograles’s silly attempt to obscure the irrelevance of the House, which is the doing of its leadership and membership. Let the lower house debase itself and reach the bottom and the lowest of the lows. Let them be. Let us not save certain pernicious reptiles from extinction.


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