‘House rendered idle by Napolists’

MANILA — As a result of the congressional fallout from the so-called  “Napolists” scandal, the House of Representatives  has become demoralized and unproductive, according to  the independent minority bloc and several other lawmakers.

The Bloc’s leader Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte said the legislative  mill is hardly moving  because  the House is ‘demoralized’ over the  Napoles  pork barrel  scandal and its adverse  impact  on  the reputation of lawmakers identified in various  lists reported in the media. Romualdez cited for instance the House inaction on urgent  measures  like the anti-dynasty bill, proposed amendments to the Constitution and crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Romualdez observation drew a rejoinder from  Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.  who  denied  any demoralization  in the  House over the Napoles  pork barrel  scam.

“Maybe he (Romualdez) is talking about the Congress under GMA former president Arroyo when it was a really battered Congress),” Belmonte said.

“We have roughly 20 congressmen in the current 16th Congress whose names have appeared but almost without an exception whose involvement were during the GMA days,” Belmonte added, refusing to name names.

Romualdez said the House was actually demoralized for  a long  time already.

“I have repeatedly warned  and sought  the immediate release  of the Napoles list because  any delay in  letting the  truth  out  then opens  suspicion  that  the Napoles  list  is being sanitized or whitewashed  and  a  cover  up is being done,” Romualdez said.

The  Leyte opposition stalwart  said the existence  of several versions of Napoles lists—whistleblower Benhur  Luy, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson, Sandra Cam list—have  only caused  confusion  and  skepticism  among the  people.

Amid  the  confusion and muddled lists, the names and  reputation  of   legislators named  in these  lists   were  being mercilessly savaged  and tainted as media  feasted  on the  Napoles  scandal,”  Romualdez  explained.

He reiterated his demand that not only the list but all information and records with the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on pork barrel allocations from 2010-2012 be opened to public scrutiny.

“We should once and for all present to the Filipino people all the records and details of pork barrel allocations of the Aquino administration,” Romualdez said.

In separate interviews with the Manila Standard,  congressmen Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada, Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP and Terry Ridon of Kabataan  shared Romualdez’s observation.

But the three lawmakers had a different but realistic view on the demoralization in the House which they said is due to the scrapping of pork barrel funds for congressmen as well the refusal of the House leadership to conduct an inquiry on the Napoles issue.

“The Napoles issue has certainly affected the members’ enthusiasm, and with the abolition of the [priority development assistance fund] and the seeming reluctance of the House leadership to engage and discuss with the members the Napoles issue, and the critical affairs of the day has taken its toll and the institution,” de la Cruz said.

Bello, a member of the minority bloc, said that the trial by publicity suffered by those lawmakers who were unfairly dragged into the pork barrel scandal had added insult to injury among lawmakers and Congress as an institution.

“Our congressmen are not happy with the trial by publicity that is happening to many of our colleagues.  They want to fight but they cannot find the right venue and, of course, the right lawyer,” Bello, a former justice secretary, said.

Apart from the Napoles brouhaha, Ridon, member of the Makabayan bloc, the abolition of pork barrel funds also affected the House members.

“That is a correct observation,” Ridon said on Romualdez’s ‘demoralization’ angle.  “But it is also due to the fact that many House members have a hard time contending with the truth that the PDAF is gone even if the pork exists in a different form.

Given  this  situation, Romualdez pointed out, the House  members  are   affected  and  legislative  work is  adversely affected as  proven  by inaction on urgent  measures  like the  proposed  anti-political  dynasty law, the amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution, Bangsamoro Basic law and the controversial  Enhanced Defense  and  Cooperation  Agreement  (EDCA) with the United  States, Romualdez said.

The proposals for anti-political dynasty and the so-called ‘economic’ Cha-cha being pushed by Belmonte are still pending for second reading consideration in plenary.

Similarly, while the House has yet to get into the nitty-gritty of the EDCA, it is still waiting for the Palace’s submission of the Bangsamoro Law.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., an administration ally and stalwart of the administration coalition’s National Unity Party (NUP) agreed with Belmonte.

“Since national elections are fast approaching, it seems that it is the minority and/ or the opposition  who are demoralized since the Ombudsman has already determined the existence of probable cause against politicians of national stature belonging to the opposition,” Barzaga explained.

He added:  “Considering that the main issue in the 2016 presidential elections will be good governance,  transparency and accountability, the people might think that the opposition candidates are not advocates of good governance, transparency and accountability since their leaders are facing plunder cases not to mention that the pork barrel scam which as alleged started way back in 2000 was brought to the fore during P-Noy (President Benigno Aquino III) presidency.”