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MIND DA NEWS: A Matter of Honor

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/28 June) – Members of the Congress are addressed “Honorable”. Among themselves, during their sessions or committee meetings, they address each other “Your Honor” or “The Honorable Gentleman/Lady from …” To be a member of Congress is really an honor conferred by the people in an election presumed “democratic” and “honorable” (Of course, the presumption is another matter.).  onorable”H

Reports in the media last Wednesday (June 26) – among them: Philippine Daily Inquirer:Pacquiao No. 1 absentee in House and The Philippine Star: Jules, Pacman still top absentees — referring to attendance in the Fifteenth Congress, July 2010 to June 2013, put the honor of Congress and members concerned at issue. “Jules” is Rep. Julio Ledesma IV of Negros Occidental; “Pacquiao” or “Pacman” is Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao of Sarangani – Pacquiao, a first termer; Ledesma, a veteran and notorious top absentee in past Congresses.

The Fifteenth Congress had 168 session days – equivalent to 18 months [The House has a 3-day-week session.] Pacquiao and Ledesma had 60 absences – attending only 108 session days or 64% attendance. Five other House Members were top absentees: Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (former President), 57; Party-list Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, 56; Pampanga Rep. Carmelo Lazatin, 53; Laguna Rep. Maria Evita Arago, 52; and Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco, 51.

The House during its Fifteenth Session had 297 members. Seven are top absentees attending only 64 to 69 percent of the session days. Twenty-one members led by the Speaker had 100% attendance. But the 21, while exemplary, must not be raised on a pedestal, much less to be considered a redemptive circumstance for the dishonorable conduct of the seven — it being the duty of every member of Congress to attend every session unless barred by valid and inevitable causes.

What is the score? Seven or 2.36% of the members dishonorably did their duty; 21 or 7.07% were excellent. What about the other 269 members or 90.57%? Their attendance ranged from 99 to 70 per cent. There is no available breakdown. However, considering the sacredness of the duty of the members of the Congress, an attendance below 80 percent is one to be ashamed of; 81 to 89 percent is not bad. Those with an attendance of 90 to 99 percent – how many, really – can carry high their heads?

Some of the high percentage absentees, especially the top seven, will argue that their absences were due to their “constituency” work – meaning attending to problems of people in their districts. Had this to be done during session days scheduled only 18 weeks each year? The 34 non-session weeks are time for their constituents as they are representatives for three years, not just during session days.

As a matter of honor, if members of the Congress find their official duties in conflict with their private interests or are in situations preventing them from attending to their duties on the regular basis, they must resign from their seats. Such conflicts and situations are the reasons for regular absences from sessions and, by assumptions, from the offices and the abandonment of their duties.

As a matter of honor, the House must strictly deal with absenteeism. Foremost among the factors of absenteeism are tolerance and permissiveness by the leadership and the weakness of the accountability and disciplinary system of the House. By their honor, members of the Congress must be free; but abuse of freedom is breach of honor and must not be tolerated.

The cases of two top absentees clearly illustrate these factors:

Rep. Macapagal-Arroyo: Because of her life-threatening sickness and unbailable criminal cases, she had been confined or detained in the government-owned Veterans Memorial Medical Center. With such disabilities, she should have resigned; or, the House should have considered her resigned. Yet, she won a second term last May 13 to represent her district in absentia during the Sixteenth Congress.

Rep. Pacquiao: He was elected by virtue of his being a world boxing champion. On his election, he should have retired from boxing. Or, on deciding that he would not retire from boxing, he should have given up his seat – as a matter of honor. He should not be in the Congress and in the boxing ring at the same time.

What happened during the Fifteenth Congress should be re-viewed for factual clarity on the conflict of interest. He had one fight in 2010 – November 13; two in 2011 – May 7 and November 12; two in 2012 – June 9 and December 8. He had none until the end of the Fifteenth Congress since he campaigned for his reelection. However, he will have a fight this coming November 23.

He had a fight every six months; it took at least three months to prepare for each fight. He received his full salaries and allowances and enjoyed all perks and privileges while on training. In short, the Congress paid him for his fights and, at fight time, scores of congressmen were at the ringside – on government time and, despite assurances to the contrary, on government money.

On November 22, 2010, for winning his eighth weight division title, the House awarded him the Congressional Medal of Distinction. What sense of honor – honoring a member not for his distinction as a legislator but as a boxer (first)-congressman (second). This was the signal: Members of the Congress may continue engaging in their private interests at the sacrifice of their congressional duties and would merit a congressional award should they excel.

Is it really a great honor for the Congress and the Philippines to have a battering, and, lately, battered congressman – more committed to his promoter and multimillion-dollar profession than to his constituents and duties as congressman?

Was it really a great honor for the Congress and the Philippines to pay the Honorable Congressman from Sarangani while training for his fights¸ earning multimillion dollars and more for his promoter?

Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao won a second term last May 13.  Like his colleague, Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he has been reelected to be absent. In all probability, they will be the two top absentees for the Sixteenth Congress.

As a matter of honor, can the House of Representatives be expected to stop habitual and unjustifiable absenteeism among its members? (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)




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