Friday, October 02, 2009

A Tough Act to Follow

Recently, certain individuals have initiated a barangay-wide signature campaign to draft Mayor Jerry Trenas to run against Congressman Raul T. Gonzalez Jr. Citing his sterling record as mayor of Iloilo City, these so-called “Trenas admirers” would want him to continue on serving in the House of Representatives. But in raising the stock of Trenas, these individuals wittingly or unwittingly are putting down Gonzalez Junior. This I believe is grossly unfair to our incumbent congressman because comparing the track record of Mayor Jerry Trenas with Congressman Gonzalez is like comparing apples and oranges.

There are certain quarters in Iloilo City who would like to dismiss our congressman as a “non-performing asset.” His detractors in the local media derisively call him a “distinguished member of the Committee on Silence” with some describing him as an “intellectual lightweight” who lacks the necessary “bombastic drive” to excel in politics. Lastly, Congressman Gonzalez is widely perceived to be pretty much his father’s son, his loyal “yes-man,” although I doubt sincerely if this should be taken against him. After all, filial piety is one of the foremost Asian virtues.

After a close examination of their track records, I believe that the most that can be said is this: while Mayor Trenas is an outstanding mayor, it should also be said that Congressman Gonzalez is an outstanding congressman. So the question then is: since both of them are outstanding, who is better-suited to be our congressman?

Congressman Gonzalez is probably the only representative I know in the present 14th Congress who can proudly claim to have authored 2 bills which were already enacted into law. Namely these are the Book Authorship Trust Fund Law and the Real Estate Service Act (RESA). His two other bills, the Customs Broker Act and the Good Conduct Time Allowance for Prisoners, are currently being deliberated in bicam and will mostly likely be approved before Congress adjourns for the 2010 elections. If enacted, this means that Gonzalez Junior will have four (4) laws under his belt. Four laws authored in just one term!

Perhaps in another time and another country, this would be considered a remarkable feat. But not so in the Philippines. Mind you, Congressman Gonzalez did not merely append his signature to automatically make himself co-author (a common “trick” of our legislators to pad their legislative track records) of these abovementioned bills. He researched, drafted, debated and really lobbied hard for these bills to become law. Veteran legislators and Congress insiders would tell you that it is very hard to have a bill passed and it takes political savvy to have it enacted into law. As such, most legislators end their three terms without ever making a law. It is hard because, first, you have to convince a majority of your 230-or-so colleagues in the House to support your bill. Then, after third reading in the Lower House, you still have to lobby with the 24 senators of the Upper House and we all know how hard that is. Not even his father, Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. (who served three terms and rose to become Deputy Speaker in Congress) could claim to have accomplished this feat.

So the charge that Gonzalez Junior is a “non-performing asset” and a distinguished member of the “Committee on Silence” is completely false. Also, he is no “intellectual lightweight” because steering a bill into law requires that you have to be intellectually nimble to defend your bill on the floor and you must be “charming” enough to get votes. Sadly, this remarkable legislative track record of Congressman Gonzalez is not getting enough attention in Iloilo for several reasons. First, people are inherently parochial. For example, Congressman Gonzalez’s Redistricting Bill has generated more media attention and has elicited more public discussion in Iloilo City than his RESA bill although, both in scope and impact, the RESA law is by far more far-reaching than the Redistricting Bill (The biggest purchase a typical Filipino will make in his lifetime is buying a house-and-lot, and RESA will regulate and professionalize our real estate industry to prevent prospective homebuyers from being victimized by hao siao brokers and developers). His Book Trust Fund law creates a P100-million fund for Filipino writers who want to write books about local culture, history and science thereby increasing our knowledge about ourselves as a people. But this hardly merited media attention, both locally and nationally. This is because news outfits, in determining their news stories, follow the dictum: “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.” News stories about RESA and the Book Trust Fund simply cannot compete with rape and murder stories for our people’s attention. Also, people are more aware of the things Mayor Trenas is doing for them simply because he operates in Iloilo City and people can see firsthand his performance. People in Iloilo are really not aware of what is going on in the House of Representatives simply because it is in far-away Manila. They don’t have access to the committee hearings and debates in Congress. Lastly, another reason why people are failing to take notice of his notable achievements is Congressman Gonzalez himself.

Congressman Gonzalez lacks the talent for “self-promotion.” In simple Ilonggo - “indi siya tikalon.” As most of his friends and barangay leaders observe, Raul Junior does not like to call attention to himself. His manner and the way he speaks is not bombastic. While most politicians spend so much money to generate media mileage, Gonzalez Junior shuns self-generated publicity. He seems to belong to an earlier, more genteel era when politics in the country was still a “gentleman’s game” and bragging about your accomplishments was considered “bad form” (present-day term: “cheap”). Sadly, this golden era of Quezon, Osmena and Roxas is long gone and their brand of politics is all but extinct. Personally, I would like to see more politicians in the mold of Gonzalez Junior because the way I see it, most of our problems today are caused by egoistic and overly-ambitious politicians.

I have no doubt that Mayor Trenas would make a fine congressman. After all, he was a top-notch lawyer prior to entering politics. But as a freshman congressman, Trenas will be entering the House of Representatives with a big disadvantage compared to Raul Junior. Trenas will be joining Congress without the seniority and the political clout of Gonzalez.

“Seniority rules” - that’s the rule in Congress. To illustrate, if Manny Pacquiao for example manages to get himself elected to Congress, he cannot be appointed as chair of the Committee on Sports despite being a world-reknowned boxing champion simply because he is a first-termer. This is because under the rules, only second-termers and third-termers are allowed to chair committees. Raul Junior, as a second-termer presently chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Professional Regulation, an important committee. As a third-termer, he could most likely end up chairing a major committee like the Appropriations, Way and Means, Justice or become a member of the powerful Commission on Appointments. And considering that the other senior Visayan legislators like Art Defensor, Raul del Mar of Cebu, etc. are all leaving Congress to run for other positions, Congressman Gonzalez may even have a crack at becoming Deputy Speaker for Visayas just like his father before him. On the other hand, Trenas as a first-termer would most probably be made just a member of committees. He can attend hearings and maybe participate in the debates but he cannot determine the legislative agenda. Most congressmen spend their first-term just observing and making tentative moves. This is what Congressman Gonzalez mostly did during his first term, which probably gave fuel to the unfair appellation of his being a “Committee on Silence” member.

Likewise, attaining sufficient political clout in Congress does not happen overnight. It takes years of networking and building relationships with colleagues in Congress, decision-makers in the Executive and the Judiciary. Of course, some congressmen on their first-term (like Dato Arroyo for example) have more clout than third term congressmen while some congressmen reach their term limits without attaining any clout at all. It all depends on individual ability. But I believe it is highly unlikely that Trenas will achieve more clout than our incumbent representative because Gonzalez Junior has been at it for the past six years whereas Trenas, should he get elected, will only begin networking with Congress officials in 2010.

Naturally you will ask: what’s all this seniority and political clout mumbo-jumbo have got to do with me? Well, people expect a lot of things from their congressman like job endorsement letters, boat fares, medical assistance, etc. In fact, most people vote not on the basis of a congressman’s legislative track record but on his capacity to “deliver the goods” so to speak. For one, a senior congressman receives more PDAF than a junior congressman. This means that Gonzalez Junior, being a senior legislator, will be receiving more money for roads, more livelihood projects, a larger scholarship fund, larger funding for medical assistance for indigents in Iloilo City than if Trenas was our city’s representative. And since he has more clout, Gonzalez will be in a better position to satisfy the numerous “extra-legislative” demands of his constituents than Trenas. In other words, third-termer Gonzalez Junior will be in a better position to “deliver the goods” to the people of Iloilo City.

Clearly, changing boats in midstream is not wise. As Edu Manzano would say in that SSS ad: “Sayang naman ang benefits!"

1 comment:

Kap Boy said...

At the risk of sounding like an apologist of some sort, I can only offer my two-cents on the mien and manner of how Congressman Gonzalez acts. When delivering talks he speaks in a matter-of-fact voice and avoids the so-called bombastic delivery. He is thus considered stale copy for those of us familiar with the late Roding Ganzon's tirades. Whatever personality brickbats that may be thrown at him, his presence at the Jaro gym at the aftermath of Typhoon Frank is a stark reminder that behind that facade is the old Ilonggo values of pagulikid and kabalaka.