MANILA, OCTOBER 10, 2003 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc  - Senate Minority Leader Tito Sotto was livid. Full-page newspaper ads had greeted Monday’s resumption of session, urging abolition of the Senate for being a do-nothing chamber. Sotto said that as a member of the Opposition, he felt no obligation to do the majority’s task of refuting the contention. But he was doing so just the same, perhaps as a matter of guilt.

The ads deplored the Senate’s stupendous budget of P6.1 billion a year, consisting of salaries, supplies and upkeep of P1.3 billion, and pork of P4.8 billion. Each member was drawing P211 million a year: P6 million for office outlays, P5 million per committee seat, P200-million pork. And what do they have to show for it? The ads blared:

• Of 2,650 bills filed, only 30 enacted into law, for a dismal one-percent accomplishment; 48 bills pending on second or third reading, or two-percent partial completion; and 2,153 dormant in various committees, or 81 percent with no action.

•Of 676 resolutions filed, only 78 adopted, or 12-percent attainment; and 93 (14 percent) for inquiries in aid of legislation but with none passed.

• Of 832 bills dispatched by the House of Representatives for Senate concurrence, only 66 passed, or 12-percent accomplishment; 115 pending on second or third reading, or 14-percent partial completion; and 631 dormant in various committees, or 76 percent with no action.

• Of 596 committee meetings and public hearings, only 237 reports filed, or 40-percent completion; 58 on national matters reported, or only 10 percent quality work; and only 13 (two percent) passed to aid legislation.

All this, because senators were too occupied with "privilege speeches to gain media mileage and attention."

In response to the ads, Sotto delivered a privilege speech.

With LDP partymate Ed Angara interpellating, he muttered that senators take more time with bills than congressmen because they are more studious. He rattled off supposed Senate achievements: the PEA-Amari investigation of 1996, the split decision on Piatco in 2002, and the recent Jose Pidal saga.

Curiously absent, though, was their cohort who had exposed that alias bank account. Like another minority member linked to an aborted coup d’etat weeks ago, he had made himself "inaccessible" from an impending Supreme Court revival of a massacre rap in which he is among 34 principal accused. Yet from his hideaway, he was assailing co-equal branches of government, claiming as usual without substantiation that Malacañang and the justices had colluded to persecute him. Too bad he was absent. The nation eagerly was awaiting the third installment of his allegations made from behind the mantle of parliamentary immunity.

Sotto and Angara at first suspected that congressmen who overwhelmingly support a switch to unicameral parliament were behind the ads. They took offense at the call for Senate abolition, although the congressmen had long explained to them that both chambers would be scrapped to give way to a unified one. Walang personalan, trabaho lang.

Watching patiently from the sidelines were dozens of court judges. They had taken leaves of absence en masse that day to witness the passage of a long-pending bill that would double their meager pay over a period of four years. They fidgeted in their seats, wondering if the Sotto-Angara show would last as long as the noontime Eat Bulaga.

The judges were looking forward to an entry-level pay of P44,000 a month, from the present P22,000, upon full implementation of the law in 2008. That would entice more lawyers to apply for judgeships. Forty-four percent of municipal courts and 30 percent of regional courts presently are vacant. The void is most felt in poor provinces. All 12 municipal courts in Basilan have no judge. In Eastern Samar, eight of nine are vacant. Likewise five of seven in Camarines Sur.

The raise would mean P1.9 billion allocation per year starting 2008. A modest sum for 2,700 judges, compared to P6.1 billion for 24 senators.

Sotto and Angara soon tired of their babble, to which no one but the Senate stenographers listened. It’s unclear if Sotto in the end demanded yet another investigation –in aid of legislation – of the 40 audacious academics who had taken out the ads in freedom of expression.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the judges’ bill’s author, at last stood up for ratification of the final version that a bicameral group took three nights to reconcile. Not so fast, minority Sen. John Osmeña objected, and proceeded to question some items he didn’t understand.

Osmeña is a member of the justice committee that debated the bill for months. He was a member of the Senate panel in the bicam committee that worked overtime to be able to present it last Monday. Records show that he attended only the first night, then took off with no word to colleagues. Now he was stopping the entire legislative mill until all the rest explained what they approved in his absence.

After a few heated remarks, Osmeña won a reprieve. The bill would return to the bicam to consider his minor but overblown comments.

It was the judges’ turn to be livid. They had just witnessed a typical day at the Senate, the bullwark of democracy where the rule of the majority gives in to tyranny of the minority. As they filed out of the session hall, the judges murmured if they should also take out ads for abolition.

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Catch Sapol ni Jarius Bondoc, Saturdays, 8 a.m., on DWIZ (882-AM).

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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