Martial Law legislation: Ex-assemblymen recall ‘rubber stamp’ legislature
The Martial Law years – considered by many as a dark period in Philippine history – were both “exciting” and “challenging” times, at least in the eyes of incumbent lawmakers who were part of the legislature during that period.
“I would say that the legislature was very effective at that time in the sense that national legislations were intensely discussed,” says Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano, assistant majority leader of the Interim Batasan Pambansa.
“The debates were very intelligent, because we had veteran legislators exchanging arguments.”
Pursuant to provisions of the 1973 Constitution, the parliamentary legislature known as the Interim Batasan Pambansa was established almost six years after then-President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under military rule in 1972. Headed by Marcos as prime minister, it was conceived as a transitional legislative body for the planned shift of the country’s presidential form of government to parliamentary system.
In 1984, the Interim Batasan Pambansa was replaced by the Regular Batasang Pambansa, whose members were elected per district.
Albano shares how he personally saw the convening of the executive and legislative branches into one assembly as a way of speeding up the process of crafting laws.
“Whatever we needed, from the release of funds to important local laws, we can discuss it easier. The Cabinet members were there with us inside the assembly, so we can easily talk to them,” he says.
‘Rubber stamp’ assembly
However, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Sr., who was a minority lawmaker during the Regular Batasang Pambansa, says this setup only made the Batasang Pambansa a “rubber stamp” assembly yielding to Marcos’ whims.
“Alam namin na sa lahat ng final voting talaga noon, talo kami. Mas kontrolado talaga noon ng executive ang Batasan, but we never let go pagdating sa mga debate,” Villafuerte recalls.
He says he remembers how opposition lawmakers would engage their colleagues aligned with the administration for 10 hours of debates despite “overhanging threats” to their lives.
“There’s always na overhanging threat na puwede kaming maaresto on the basis of made-up charges, pero united talaga ang opposition,” Villafuerte says.
Villafuerte believes the present bicameral legislature, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, is “much better now” compared to before.
“Even if you are in the majority now, you can object to what the executive wants. ‘Yung majority noon, nobody breaks away from the mandate of the administration,” he says.
The current structure of Congress was stipulated in the 1987 Constitution, which was drafted a year after Marcos was ousted from his post by a popular mass uprising known as the EDSA Revolution.
Still in control
Albano says he still sees vestiges of the legislature during the Martial Law years in the present Congress. For one, “The President really still has the power to ask his party members to enact laws that will further his policies and programs.”
He cites as example the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona last December, which was initiated by allies of President Benigno Aquino III, himself a former lawmaker, at the House of Representatives.
“He [Aquino] just needed to sound the bell, and everybody came,” Albano says.
The senior congressman further explains that the President’s control over members of Congress can be attributed to the executive’s power to release the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as the “pork barrel.”
Members of the House of Representatives get P70 million in PDAF every year while senators get P200 million to enable them to categorically name priority projects for government funding. The Department of Budget and Management, an agency under the executive branch, is in-charge of the release of these funds. – KBK, GMA News
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