Category Archives: congress

Privilege speech

I delivered my first privilege speech last Monday. I discussed the worsening drop-out rates in Philippine schools. I mentioned the government’s failure to guarantee a complete basic education for the Filipino youth.

I cited the latest assessment report on the Philippine compliance to the Millennium Development Goals. The report presented grim statistics on the declining participation of students in schools.

Aside from poverty and inadequate funding for public schools, I also blamed the rising cost of education in the country. I criticized some private schools which charge exorbitant and unnecessary fees.

I urged the Arroyo administration to increase the funding for the education sector, as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. I also asked education officials to implement tuition regulation measures.

The drafting of the speech was a collective effort. Our member groups contributed the latest tuition data. We also used a few quotes from my previous blog articles. We brainstormed the outline of the speech. I am happy that I have competent, hardworking, and intelligent staff members.

No Chacha?

I don’t feel the mood for a Charter Change in the Lower House. There is really no time to dance the ChaCha since Congress will take a recess on June 3. Besides, it’s already election season. Many House members recognize the futility (and stupidity) of trying to postpone the 2010 elections. Some of them are proposing a Constitutional Convention mode in amending the Constitution after the 2010 elections.

The House leadership claims there is time to pass the Chacha proposal on or before June 3. This is correct. The Majority, through the powerful Committee on Rules, decides the Order of Business. They can always move for the inclusion of the Chacha proposal for plenary discussion, debate, and voting.

However, the House of Representatives is too focused on other matters. The Lower House is currently deliberating the controversial Joint Resolution No. 36 which proposes to increase the compensation of government employees. This is a Malacañang priority measure. The period for interpellation has not yet ended. (This issue deserves a separate blogpost.)

The House leadership has also expressed its willingness to tackle these measures on or before June 3: Agrarian Reform Extension, Reproductive Health, and Right of Reply. These are all (very, very) controversial bills. The proponents and opponents of these measures are expected to mount aggressive campaigns inside and outside of plenary for the passage or rejection of these measures. By the way I am a co-author of the Reproductive Health bill.

We only have seven remaining sessions before we take a break. Paano nila ngayon isisingit ang Chacha?

Committee hearings

A senior lawmaker told me that attending committee hearings is equally important to our attendance in the plenary. Through these committee meetings, lawmakers can directly propose amendments to pending bills and resolutions. Members can also block the passage of certain measures at the committee level. We can also listen to the views of invited resource speakers about our proposed legislation.

Last week I attended two committee hearings sponsored by the Committee on Dangerous Drugs and the Committee on Housing and Urban Development. Last Monday I attended a Technical Working Group meeting on the proposed Magna Carta of Students. Yesterday morning I attended a joint executive meeting of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education and Committee on Basic Education. In the afternoon I joined a forum about the P125 wage hike bill sponsored by the Committee on Labor and Employment.

I was surprised by the revelation made by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency about the problems encountered by their office. They don’t have patrol boats, high-grade firearms, and recruitment funds in their fight against big time drug syndicates. I was also surprised to learn that aside from PDEA, there are various government agencies which are also running after druglords – Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, NBI, and PNP. Yet, the drug menace still persists. At nakakatakas pa ang mga druglord. During the public hearing I asked the concerned agencies to coordinate their efforts and to rationalize their operations. Instead of spreading their meager resources throughout the country, why not identify priority areas where they can focus their operations? Huwag magsiksikan sa Subic.

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Committee selections

I asked the Minority Leader to deputize me as member of these committees: Basic Education and Culture, Higher and Technical Education, Good Government and Public Accountability, Information and Communications Technology, Youth and Sports Development, Constitutional Amendments, Public Information, and Dangerous Drugs.

My preferred secondary committees: Human Rights, Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, The Welfare of Children, and the Special Committee on Millennium Development Goals.

I think we can save money by rationalizing the House committees. For example the Government Enterprises and Privatization Committee can be merged with the Government Reorganization Committee. We only need one education committee to address the needs of the education system. Why separate the committees on Ecology and Natural Resources? (We even have a Special Committee on Reforestation). We should combine the Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Committees.

Some committees reflect the dominant ideology in government. The Committee of Government Enterprises and Privatization is very ideological – it assumes that privatization of government enterprises is an objective and economic necessity. This shows the influential role of the neoliberal school of thought in shaping the policies of the government. If we propose the establishment of a Committee on Nationalization or National Industrialization, most likely it would be rejected for espousing an ideological program.

I also observed that some of the committees reveal the shortcomings of the government. It isn’t enough that we have Mindanao solons – the House has instituted a Committee on Mindanao Affairs. Participatory governance remains a dream that is why we have a Committee on People’s Participation. The Economic Affairs Committee deals with economic development planning but it seems it is not exclusively concerned with solving poverty in the country because there is a separate Committee on Poverty Alleviation. Are we content with establishing committees on issues which we cannot solve?

Quorum

Last Tuesday Rep. Caloy Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya raised an important point in the plenary: lack of quorum in the House. This is an old issue but the Nograles leadership has claimed that the attendance of House members has improved in the past year. Padilla expressed his disappointment that House sessions do not start on time (4pm) because many members are late in entering the plenary. If members cannot attend sessions on time, Padilla proposed to amend the rules so that the Lower Congress can start its sessions at 5pm or 6pm.

Rep. Salvador Escudero of Sorsogon noted that it takes more than an hour to finish the roll call. (What a waste of time!). He has an interesting suggestion: redefine the meaning of quorum. Instead of the standard 50 percent + 1, Escudero wanted quorum to mean 50 + 1 so that there will always be a quorum in the House.

Minority Leader Ronnie Zamora also participated in the discussion by inquiring about the electronic biometric system proposed by former Speaker Jose De Venecia. This would have allowed the House secretariat to quickly determine the number of solons present in the plenary. I was surprised by the reply of the Majority Leader. He said the e-voting test failed. Rep. Antonio Cerilles was flabbergasted as well. He asked, “Why did we pay for something we didn’t test?”

Oo nga naman. Sayang wala si Speaker De Venecia nung Martes.

Voting

The House approved a few bills on Third Reading this week. I abstained during the voting for HB 5241 – "The Investments and Incentives Code of the Philippines." I explained that I have not yet read the bill. However I voted for the approval of the following bills since they have clear and noble objectives:

HB 263 – "An Act to strengthen and propagate foster care for abandoned and neglected children and other children with special needs,”

HB 6052 – "An Act requiring all registered voters whose biometrics have not been captured to appear before the election officer of their place of registration for purposes of having their photographs, fingerprints and signatures captured through the method of biometrics, for purposes of ensuring that the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) can be utilized to cleanse the records of double or multiple registrants,"

HB 6096 – "An Act requiring all government offices to ensure the release of the retirement benefits of its employees within fifteen days from retirement,"

HB 6076 – "An Act expanding the promotion of breastfeeding, amending for the purpose R.A. 7600, otherwise known as ‘An Act providing incentives to all government and private health institutions with rooming-in and breastfeeding practices and for other purposes,"

Non-automation

I was disturbed by the privilege speech of Rep. Pablo Garcia. He was questioning the constitutionality and legality of automating the 2010 polls. He also doubts the capability of the Commission on Elections to supervise the automation. He warns that the system may break down and we would be unable to elect and proclaim a new President next year.

He sent a letter to Comelec (the letter was also signed by other members of the House) reminding the poll body that Congress has yet to pass a special law that would allow the automation of the polls next year. Garcia enumerated several provisions of the law which mandate a manual system of voting, manual preparation of election returns, and manual transmission of votes. He adds that mixed automation may be possible: manual voting for the local polls, automation for national elections. During the interpellation, Garcia said automation is possible only in the transmission of votes; but not during voting.

In sum, Garcia said the “window of maneuverability is short” for poll automation. It seems that a fully automated election system will not take place next year.

Other matters

I endorsed the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. The petitioners mentioned in the complaint that the Ombudsman and her classmate, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, flunked the bar exam when they first took it in 1973. (Wala lang, natawa lang ako.)

What constitutes a quorum during committee hearings? Watch the YouTube clip showing the debate between Rep. Goilez and Rep. Datumanong.

First week: How I spent your money

When was my first day as a member of Congress? When the Supreme Court published the historic ruling on the partylist system which overturned the Panganiban formula? When the Commission on Elections proclaimed us last Friday? When I took my oath before Justice Carpio last Monday? When I attended the session last Wednesday?

Monday. After my oath taking at the Supreme Court in the morning, I attended a press conference at the Minority Office in the House of Representatives. I was given a chance to deliver a short message. I thanked the members and supporters of our party. I also criticized the “Gang of Four” in Congress (Arroyos). I asked the president to convince her sister-in-law to step down and allow other nominees to represent the balut vendors.

I attended a higher education committee hearing in the afternoon. The committee tackled HB 2380 – Protecting the rights of students requiring professional licensing examinations to enroll in review centers of their choice and providing penalties thereof – which is principally authored by Rep. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna. I’m supporting this measure. Most likely this bill will be passed by the committee. During the hearing, Rep. Teves of Negros revealed that there is a school in his province requiring students to live in the school dormitory for two months in order to attend review classes.

Schools should not require students to attend review classes. Enrolling in review schools should not be made as a graduation requirement. Review classes are acceptable if they are part of the curriculum. But the popular practice today involves schools which force students to join expensive review classes.

Why do schools want their students to attend review classes? To ensure a high passing rate in the board examinations. This is not illegal. But students which received a good education do not need to be equipped with last-minute “testmanship skills” in order to pass the board. If schools are confident of the quality of learning they are offering, they don’t need to invite review centers in their campuses. The existence of many review centers confirms the weakness of Philippine education today.

I also question our dependence on review centers to pass the board. Four years of intellectual hardwork to be digested in only a few weeks? Schooling through review centers is “education in a hurry” or the “hurrying of education.” Review classes are needed by some students but they should not be advertised as something which all students need to “buy” in order to succeed.

Wednesday. My first time to attend the plenary session as a House member. My temporary seat and desk are located at the right side of the plenary. Next week I might join the rest of the minority in the middle-front of the session hall.

I saw these documents on my desk: Two committee reports, Order of Business, Session Journal and two opinion columns (Fr. Joaquin Bernas – PDI April 27; and Malaya editorial – April 23) recognizing the legality of the Nograles proposal to amend the Constitution.

I was supposed to be inducted in the House but the Speaker has already left for Las Vegas. The ceremonial event will now take place on May 11. This also means there will be no major political decisions to be made in the House while the Speaker is out of the country. It will be a quiet week next week.

I introduced myself to a few solons in the plenary and the south wing lounge. I learned that Rep. Zubiri of Bukidnon reads many blogs everyday. I might convince him to set-up his own blog.

Thursday. There was a House orientation for new members yesterday. Finally, I was able to meet the other new partylist representatives. My seatmate was Rep. Francisco of ARC. I enjoyed the presentation on the legislative process. The House SecGen clarified that local bills on street renaming are only few (eight to be exact).

I visited star witness Jun Lozada in the afternoon to give moral support and to assure him that our group will propose the revival of the NBN-ZTE investigation.