Thursday, February 7, 2008

Money and Power Dethroned JDV -- and Girlie Villarosa Lent her Hand!


The ouster of the leader of the Philippine congress has once again highlighted how a small group of political elites here use their power to sway colleagues and enrich their loved ones, analysts say.

Jose de Venecia -- who accused President Gloria Arroyo, her government and her family of corruption -- was voted out of his seat after a marathon session that started on Monday, and replaced with close Arroyo ally Prospero Nograles.

Experts said the move showed how lawmakers, whose monthly salary is a mere 35,000 pesos (850 dollars), are easily swayed by more powerful members with lots of cash and influence in the worlds of politics and business.

"It is not like other democracies where you have a solid party system," political analyst Antonio Abaya, of the Foundation for Transparency and Public Accountability, told AFP.

"Here it is all about money and power. We call it the politics of patronage."

Edmund Tayao, a political scientist with the University of Santo Tomas, agreed, saying: "Politics in this country is dominated by a small group of rich and very powerful families."

One of the most sought-after jobs in the country is Speaker of the House, a position that wields enormous power -- especially when it comes to dividing up the yearly congressional budget for local spending.

This year the financial allotment totals around 16.7 billion pesos (481 million dollars) for just 239 lawmakers to be used in their constituencies for projects such as roads and schools.

For some lawmakers, "pork-barrel" allocations for their congressional districts can be upwards of 70 million pesos -- which, along with all the other perks of holding public office, are not audited.

"With all that largesse at his fingertips, the speaker of the House has one of the most influential positions in the Philippines," said Clarita Carlos, a political scientist with the University of the Philippines.

"This is the taxpayer's money and we have no idea how it is spent or where it is spent. Why should these clowns be allowed to have all that money without any accountability?"

De Venecia -- who served as speaker for 12 years -- was the fall guy in a classic dispute between two powerful political families over money, Tayao explained.

The 72-year-old veteran had been an ardent supporter of Arroyo for years, guiding her through the fallout following the disputed 2004 presidential election and deflecting repeated congressional attempts to impeach her.

He rewarded those lawmakers who fell in line with generous financial support for their constituencies.

But on Monday, he turned on her, delivering a stinging speech against her on the House floor, accusing her of corruption and cheating to win re-election.

According to Tayao, De Venecia lost faith in Arroyo when his son Joey lost a controversial broadband contract last year to a Chinese company -- a deal Joey says was tainted by massive corruption at the highest levels.

Joey de Venecia also accused the president's husband, lawyer Jose Miguel Arroyo, of trying to silence him over the deal.

During a Senate investigation, it was alleged the 330-million-dollar project was overpriced by 200 million dollars.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Tayao said.

Arroyo's two lawmaker sons, Juan Miguel and Diosdado, eventually led the campaign to remove the speaker.

Amando Doronila, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Enquirer, described De Venecia's ouster as "a vendetta between the Arroyos and the De Venecias over the spoils of office -- an issue basically concerned with corruption."

Another commentator, Jarius Bondoc, wrote in the Philippine Star that with Nograles as speaker, control over the congressional pork-barrel "would land in the hands of the Arroyos -- including First Gentleman Mike."

"That would make their family truly the most powerful in the land -- with Mrs Arroyo in charge of the executive and the other Arroyos lording over the House."

Tayao said Arroyo had taken a "big gamble" in dumping De Venecia.

"He has been around for a long time and knows where the skeletons are buried," he said.


This is already the degree of rotten-ness of our politics, as practised even at the national level...

And, lest we forget, may I add that to this political quagmire, we have seen how Girlie Villarosa participated..

Anyone wondering why her district is still backward?

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