Whose back is going to be scratched?

February 4, 2008

Last Thursday, January 31, 2008, I was requested by the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), together with Mayor Madel Gazmen-Alfelor, to attend a forum that tackled the bill of Cong. Anne Hofer which proposed the conversion of capital towns of provinces, with no cities, to cities. In attendance for the House were Cong. Hofer, Cong. “Way Kurat” Zamora and Cong. Ong. The LCP’s position is anchored on the basic issue of equity. In 1988, with only 60 cities and 21% of the population, cities had a 23% share of the IRA. Now, with 120 cities and 37% of the population, cities’ IRA share remain at 23%. As a result of these indiscriminate conversions, the average IRA per capita in cities is now less than that of the municipalities. Congress has addressed the issue on a piecemeal basis. They passed a law prescribing more stringent requirements for conversion. Cong. Hofer’s Bill is proposing another exemption.The mandatory review of the Local Government Code (LGC) which should have been done in 1996 — is long overdue. A comprehensive study should have been conducted that would have prevented these unnecessary controversies. Cities, by the way, contribute the largest to our national income taxes which form the IRA. Cities, in fact, are subsidizing IRA shares of provinces and municipalities. While, the matter of the IRA sharing was the heart of the discussion, what struck me most was when one of the three congressmen said, that the passage of the bill in the House is almost a done deal, following the “I will scratch your back, you scratch mine” tradition in Congress. The new conversion bill might be the fourth amendment to the provisions of the LGC on the creation of cities. But it does not matter whether it’s well thought of or not. . . “I will scratch your back and you scratch mine”.

Ironically, the fate of Speaker Joe de Venecia in his bid to retain the Speakership, likewise, will be decided by the same tradition. Despite claims to the contrary, it will not be decided on a matter of principle. At the end of the day, whether it is Speaker Joe de Venecia again or Cong. Prospero Nograles, the votes will merely reflect the personal interests of the members of the House. Except for the Liberal Party, no one even ventured to at least justify their leanings by alluding to the pursuit of a higher purpose (in the best interest of the Filipino people!) in this political play. The way things are, the new “rainbow coalition” will be composed of members who were part of the failed attempt to dislodge Speaker de Venecia last year, members who hate the guts of Joey de Venecia, members who are presently at the losing end of the perks and members who will just simply follow where the direction of the wind blows. No wonder people are not hopeful! No wonder people are indifferent! Sadly, if Speaker de Venecia is replaced, it will be for the wrong reasons . . . It just so happened that the majority of the members of the House have decided that “scratching a new back will eventually remove the lingering itchiness on theirs”.

That is the House of Representatives for you!