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Privilege Speech

By Sanlakas Representative Renato B. Magtubo

08 May 2000

Mr. Speaker, fellow Members of Congress: The House of Representatives is in crisis. This House is afire.

Numerous scandals have rocked Congress in its long and checkered history. Arguably this is the worst yet. For the first time an accusation of bribery at the House is backed up with prima facie evidence. And the whistleblowers have no intention of retracting their claims.

Mr. Speaker, the facts are simple, clear and undeniable.

On April 12, the day the Omnibus Power bill was passed by the House of Representatives, Rep. Etta Rosales and I, separately, were given P 500,000 in cash. I was told by Rep. Eleandro Madrona to go down to Rep. Sonny Belmontes office. There, Atty. Grace Andres, his chief of staff, handed over the money in exchange for our signatures on a piece of paper.

Are there any facts or circumstances to corroborate this allegation? First, Rep. Madrona publicly admitt


ed that he talked to me and indeed told me to proceed to Rep. Belmontes office. Second, other solons like Reps. Eladio Jala of Bohol, Nancy Cuenco of Cebu, and Joy Young of party-list PROMDI, openly admitted to Cebu media of receiving money, only they call it "bonus" and "gratuity". Third, Speaker Manny Villar and Rep. Belmonte issued very weak denials, claiming only that they did not personally hand over any money, something beside the point and which Rep. Rosales and I never alleged. Fourth, personalities from outside the House, namely Sen. Serge Osmena and Earl Parreno, Pinoy Times Reporter, are knowledgeable too of the payola.

Sen. Osmena knows three majority congressmen who each admitted to receiving P 500,000. He confirms too that the bribery was not selective but for everybody. Parreno, on the other hand, has a detailed account of how the payola money arrived at the office of the Committee on Accounts chaired by Rep. Madrona and how it was distributed to the members of the House. Allegedly, four Accounts staff divided the money into P 500,000 packets. According to him, by 10:00a.m. of April 12, more than a hundred majority members have taken their money while by 1 p.m. seven minority members had been given theirs.

But even setting these facts and circumstances aside, the issue could be cleared up very easily. Rep. Rosales and I were both given the money by Atty. Andres. She is the key to the case. She could confirm or deny our story.

But she has not. It has been 22 days since we spilled the beans on the power bill payola yet Atty. Andres, the star witness-to-be, remains absent and silent. Is it not utterly suspicious that she has not shown her face to the public not uttered a single word on the issue? It is her deafening silence that closes this case in our favor.

Even if Atty. Andres suddenly surfaces today to deny our claims, nobody will believe her. She should have said her piece the very next day after we exposed the bribery. In fact she could have appeared and spoken immediately after our press conference since Rep. Belmonte was informed of our plans the night before. Rep. Belmonte has all the time to order Atty. Andres to go public and vehemently dispute our claims if our allegations were not true. The only way she can be credible is for her to tell the truth and confirm our allegations.

Nonetheless our expose deserves to be examined. But what should be scrutinized are facts, not motives. Thus the very first order of business of an impartial and honest investigation of the case is to subpoena Atty. Andres and compel her to testify. What this inquiry should establish is who else were given the money, how much was given to whom, where this money came from and what is it for.

It speaks of volumes of the character of this House, however, that its leaders called rather for an interrogation of our motives for revealing the power bill payoff. The tables were turned and the accusers became the accused.

Still these counter-accusations hold not a drop of water. I am accused of tainting the integrity of Congress and destabilizing the government. I ask, since when did exposing wrongdoing in government become the wrong thing to do? I admit then to destabilizing the status quo where legislation is passed in exchange for pieces of silver.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot besmirch the integrity of Congress since it is tainted from the very start. A single member like me cannot bring this House crumbling down like house of cards. But it can collapse on the weight of its own grave sins.

Need I repeat what the people outside the gates of Congress say of this institution? It is called a "den of thieves" and a "rotten pigsty". It is regarded as an idle talking shop where ambitious trapos grandstand and where laws are ratified for the right price.

The worse "crime" that I have done is to confirm to the people what they already regard as common knowledge. Of course it is an infraction not from the point of view of the people, but a trespass only in the eyes if my colleagues grown accustomed to a sorry tradition of backslapping and cover-up.

Still we could turn this bad thing into a good thing. The people can still give Congress a second chance. But only if it first confesses to its misdeeds and accepts punishment. The only way to clean the House is for it not to sweep the dirt under the rug.

Thus the logic of an independent inquiry into the bribery attending the passage of the omnibus power bill. The House cannot be expected to investigate itself. The suspect cannot act as an investigator.

Mr. Speaker, the call for an independent investigating body is based on standards of morality and not so much on questions of technicality. In all its history, absolutely nothing has come out of substantial issues filed before the Ethics Committee of the House. Nonetheless I believe that a unanimous House resolution will vest an independent citizens commission with legality. All the House needs therefore is the will to reform. It is the will to reform that is the bedrock of a renewal of Congress.

If there are those who ask what my motives are, my answer is simply this: I have no other agenda in this expose that to initiate a thorough reform of Congress so that it could serve as an instrument if social reform. The workers call for protection against globalization. The people clamor for improvements in their lives. A Congress where corruption and cover-up hold sway cannot act on these urgent demands.

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing sinister in my motive, nothing hidden in this agenda. Let me remind my colleagues of my very first privilege speech where I laid down for all to hear what a union president and militant activist like me doing among the millionaire capitalists and career politicians that populate Congress. Then, I said that this "damaged institution" must be reformed. Then, I suggested that an appropriate beginning is integration with the masses so we can be sympathetic with their plight. Then, I warned that "sasabihin ko ang dapat sabihin, maghalo man ang balat sa tinalupan."

And so it came to pass. Maybe the ears of my colleagues have been deafened by the pompous hypocrisy that is the norm at the House or so accustomed to bombastic speeches dripping with insincerity that nobody took my words for what they were. If they had, then maybe the masterminds of the payola would have thought twice about putting me on their list. I would then have lost the opportunity to expose the bribery. But then again maybe it is the House that would have lost a chance at reforming itself.

If the House is at the brink of the precipice, it was brought there not by our legitimate expose but by the hysterical reaction of the leaders of Congress. In vengeance to the "unpardonable offense" of revealing the bitter truth, my colleagues threaten me with expulsion. I remind them of Joe Tarucs warning "kung patatalsikin niyo si Magtubo, and makakalaban ninyo ay ang buong bayan."

Mr. Speaker, if Rep. Aniceto Saludo has the right to suspect my purpose revealing the payola, all the more do I have the right to question his motive because he lawyered for the Lopezes who are undoubtedly an interested party to the omnibus power bill. Need I remind all and sundry that then private citizen Saludo acted as counsel for Ex-Rep. Albertito Lopez when he was implicated in another infamous bribery during the 10th Congress?

If Rep. Erico Aumentado claims I only have an axe to grind against the members of the House, all the more can I claim that it is he who has a grudge to bear against the labor movement. Need I remind the public that it was Rep. Aumentado who sponsored the notorious strike ban bill at the height of the PAL workers struggle?

To the Saludos, Aumetados and Albanos of this House, I say: You cannot intimidate me. Hindi ako nag-iisa! I belong to the real majority the toiling masses of our people. If I have to call this House of Representatives a "house of thieves" and a "stinking pigsty" to express the true sentiments of our people, I will with all the voice I can muster.

When I entered today the halls of this Congress, I can feel the hostile eyes of many of its members. If crocodiles can shed tears while devouring their prey, politicos can seethe with anger while lying through their teeth. It appears that an honest congressman is one who is sincerely convinced of the correctness of his lying and the rightness of his lies.

I challenge all to make good their threat to expel me. I know I have courted the ire of many a House member who expectedly would vet their wrath on me. I cannot care less.

If this House refuses to reform, it can expel me. Anyway, I have not really been one among, much less with members.

I belong neither to the majority nor the minority in this House. I belong to the majority of the people outside of the walls of Deputy Speaker Fuentes beloved Congress. I belong to the masses of toiling workers whose dream of being liberated from the bondage of capital I share and hold dearly.

Many fear that Congress will prove too stubborn in order to protect its interest and insist on an ethics investigation that will surely end in a whitewash. If that too shall come to pass, then the House has only blame if the people would lose what little remains of their faith in this institution and in this system.

Militant groups such as my party-list organizations, Sanlakas, were encouraged to participate in electoral politics. Armed movements out there are still being motivated to shift to parliamentary struggle.

But what hope and inspiration are we giving these movements when those that did give the struggle for reforms a try were stymied by the intransigence of the powers-that-be.

Let me remind Congress of the dialectics of reform and revolution. Those who hinder the road to reform only pave the way for revolution.

















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