Up-in-the-air Upper House

"When it comes to making themselves more comfortable, the sky's the limit."


Right up front, I’m asking my readers to pray for the recovery of broadcast journalist Twink Macaraig, who’s battling Stage 4 cancer.

A news anchor and program manager on TV-5, Twink is also my sorority sister from Sigma Alpha Nu. An essay of hers in the Philippine Star last Sunday showed that she’s lost none of her feistiness, not just about her own health issues, but also including the political causes she cares deeply about.

“I’m still a fighter!” she declared. God bless and reward you for that, sis.

* * *

A different kind of fighter is how one might describe Nur Misuari, the MNLF and ARMM leader, who’s now threatening to wage war again if the country doesn’t adopt federalism. As a federalism advocate myself, I have to say that with friends like him, who needs enemies?

Most accounts of the long battle to pass the new Bangsamoro Organic Law say that Nur never cooperated with his rivals in the much bigger MILF and kept trying to block its passage. Now that the BOL is part of the law of the land, Nur is evidently ready to break the law just to keep his own ageing personal ambitions alive, after the well-documented failures of the ARMM experiment that he led.

For his part, MILF chair Al-Hajj Murad is counselling peace and vowing that he will abide by the Constitution. Would he be just as peaceful if the BOL battle had not gone his way? It’s an interesting question, but by now purely academic, since Murad is now responsible for building a new sub-nation, not trying to destroy the larger nation. Plus, a federalist constitution will also give him more room to expand his autonomy and authority on the ground.

* * *

“Up in the air” is how one might describe the honorable members of the Upper House—the Senate—who repeatedly remind us of the increasing distance between their own little world and the larger world of us poor mortals on the ground.

Since Duterte took office, the senators—many of them professedly aligned with the administration—have repeatedly stalled or blocked key items of his agenda that were sent up from the Lower House, e.g. the “Trabaho Bill”, the second part of comprehensive tax reform; the charter change initiative; and now, even the proposed budget this year.

Among the essential items being sidelined by the senators’ intransigence is the budget for acquiring right of way (ROW) for infrastructure projects. To give you an idea of the importance of ROW: In Central Visayas alone, only 12 infra projects have been implemented out of a total 95 projects due to ROW problems. Fifty-seven projects worth P2 billion have been suspended, while the balance of 26 projects worth P4.5 billion were outright terminated.

It’s probably easy to dismiss these trivial concerns from the lofty aerie inhabited by the senators, who after all have no specific constituency to answer to. But when it comes to making themselves more comfortable, the sky’s the limit.

Ground has already broken for building the senators a new home in the Fort, to the tune of a staggering P8 billion. That’s an average P333 million to make each senator feel better about the kind of office he has to work in.

Senator Ping Lacson reminds us that the Senate will be saving P171 million in annual rentals to GSIS. At that rate, it will take 46.7 years for the new building to pay for itself. And of course, GSIS will be losing rental income that would otherwise have strengthened the pension fund of government employees.

Lacson says the project will encourage future senators to “behave and act with the dignity of an edifice” like the one now being built for them. Evidently it is already too late to similarly reform the current crop of lawmakers. But if a new building will prompt future senators to behave better than their predecessors—hey, it might just be worth it after all.

* * *

Another font of entertaining wisdom is senatorial aspirant Neri Colmenares, who wants government to drop the Kaliwa dam project because it would displace thousands of families among the indigenous peoples who inhabit the Sierra Madre range. Instead, he wants government to “look at” alternatives like “rehabilitation of the Wawa dam and [construction of] the Kaliwa weir.”

It’s characteristic of Colmenares and his comrades in the Makabayan bloc of legislators to shoot down infrastructure and other projects with their ideological jargon, while dumping on government the responsibility of coming up with alternatives. Won’t people also need to be relocated away from Wawa? How much water can a 7-foot run-of-river weir provide year-round by comparison with a 70-meter-high reservoir dam?

Compensating and relocating affected local communities is part of virtually every large infrastructure project, especially dams. But it requires asking tough questions and working hard on the answers, not taking cheap shots at the expense of the welfare of the larger majority.

* * *

Thoughts on today’s Gospel (Matthew 18: 21-35):

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus answers a question from Peter by saying that we should be ready to forgive our enemy, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. That may seem unreasonable to some. Why should we be so forgiving to people who don’t deserve it? More important: even if we wanted to, how can we bring ourselves to such excessive magnanimity?

As to the first question, the parable presents us with the servant who, despite being forgiven his debts by his master, threw into prison another fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. We have no right to be so hard-hearted with our neighbor when we ourselves, as congenital and original sinners, are continually and repeatedly being forgiven for much worse offenses by our Creator.

As to the second question, the first servant might not have behaved so badly had he paid closer heed to the example being set for him by his master. There is only one source of the limitless grace that not only allows for the forgiveness of our own sins, but also teaches us, by example, how to forgive others as well—up to seventy-seven times, and more.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Twink Macaraig , Nur Misuari , MNLF , Bangsamoro Organic Law , Senate , Neri Colmenares

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