Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Evolution of Pinoy Politicians

“The superstition, the gullibility, the ignorance of the common people in these Islands are such that it will be a century before they are capable of self-government. There is a small percent of people who have had money enough to acquire a good education, and they it is who, for motives or personal ambition, have thrown this country into a deplorable state of war. These leaders, educated as they are, with a few notable exceptions, are the most magnificent liars that it has been my luck to come across. They change from side to side to the other with the ease of the statesmen of the days of Marlborough. Few, if any of them have the slightest conception of justice as we understand it in an Anglo Saxon country. They have learned from the Spaniard that the best way of increasing a small salary is to get a “rake off” and to “squeeze” the people over whom they exercise authority. This moral condition, or immoral condition, is what makes our future task after pacification such a difficult one. We must give the Filipinos a part in the government, and yet it is very unsafe to entrust them with any authority which they can use for the purpose of squeezing money out of the people…” ~ William Taft’s letter to Howard Hollister, 1900*

Fifty years later, the first post-war Congress passes a law authorizing the Philippine Treasury to pay back salaries and wages to members of Congress and their staff to cover the three years of Japanese occupation. In effect, the Backpay Law compensated the legislators for service that they never rendered during the war years.** I thought this was just tsismis, coming from my Kasaysayan prof who admitted that he likes talking to old (pre-war) people and integrates what he hears from them in his lectures, and “verified” by Wikipedia. But then, there's an actual case decided by the Supreme Court regarding the matter, Custodio vs. Senate President.*** It's not available online so I went to the library to take a look at the brittle and dusty pages of the Official Gazette at the Reserve section. 

Fast facts: Simplicio Custodio, a former guerrillero (I suppose a HUKBALAHAP member?), filed a petition for prohibition against the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Insular Treasurer and the Insular Auditor to prohibit them from authorizing and approving the disbursement of P3,000,000.00 appropriated for the back salaries of the Congressmen. He likewise prayed that the act be declared invalid and unconstitutional. Sadly, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on the following grounds: 
1) Custodio does not have the requisite personality to attack the constitutionality of the act. The elementary doctrine of constitutional law is that the constitutionality of a legislative act is open to attack only by a person whose rights are affected thereby, that one who invokes the power of the court to declare an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional must be able to show not only that the statute is invalid but that he has sustained, or is in immediate danger of sustaining, some direct injury as the result of its enforcement, and not merely that he suffers in some indefinite way in common with people generally. 
2) Appropriation is a political question. Tribunals are not called upon to decide questions of political character. It must be decided by the people at the polls. 
My point is, kupal na talaga ang mga Congressman dati pa. Imagine demanding for back salaries at a time when the country is ravaged by war? Grabe lang. Anyhoo, it is interesting to note that had this case been filed today, Custodio would have won considering that the SC is very liberal as to locus standi these days and that the doctrine of political question has been irrefragably diminished by Art. VIII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution.

After almost seven decades, we are bombarded with the shocking news of the P10 billion pork barrel scam. “Paano kaya sila nakakatulog sa gabi?” I asked manong cab driver while stuck in EDSA one rainy evening. He was tuned in to an AM radio station and the anchor was on an extended outburst about the issue. “Sa pera sila nakahiga kaya mahimbing ang tulog nila. Hindi naman barya yan e,” he jokingly replied.


*___vs. ___, citing Alfonso, O. (1970). Theodore Roosevelt and the Philippines. University of the Philippines Press, p.45.
** Wikipedia entry on the 1st Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines at
*** 42 Official Gazette 1243, November 7, 1945.

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