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How Congress can work better

"Workshops would be a good idea."

We live in troubled times, President Rodrigo Dutgerte said in his SONA opening statement. Among the most troubled were the people who helped draft the President’s speech.

They had difficulty putting together in a logical, coherent, and forthright manner the many complex problems confronting the nation and troubling the President.

The President is proposing the creation of new departments, one of which is to address exclusively the concerns of the millions of Filipinos working overseas. He also issued executive orders directing some of his cabinet members to draw programs which will put our country on stream with worldwide developments in science and technology and in diplomacy.

The President has asked Congress to enact measures which will cover the urgent problems he outlined in his speech and to pass long pending legislative bills which are now badly needed.

Admitting that graft and corruption, the drug menace, and social inequities remain entrenched, he called on Congress and the people to join him in confronting these problems in the last two years of his term. He stressed that the pandemic has deepened the gravity of these problems and stunted efforts to shore up the battered economic situation.

With most of the members of Congress quarantined and more occupied with preserving their political footholds, the chances of the urgent legislative measures getting passed is negligible. But there are ways by which Congress can work better and help the President.

Instead of conducting hearings and investigations, Congress should hold workshops and consultations. It should invite the best and the brightest people from the private sector and key officials from government agencies to thoroughly discuss the problems or issues in any specific subject of legislation.

In effect, Congress is calling on the people to draft the laws which will address their concerns or govern the industry to which they belong. This means the legislative measures they recommend are not only products of wide consensus but are the true sentiments of the people directly involved.

The workshops will minimize, if not prevent, lobbying by vested interests who are powerful and influential because of their financial and political clout. This will also lessen the need for congressional hearings and investigations which are held mostly in aid of publicity instead of legislation. Congressional hearings are often prolonged and are usually disjointed, since the issues are not always clearly defined or joined.

These workshops will be highly welcomed by the business community, particularly by the various business organizations. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the local associations of foreign business enterprises in the country often find it difficult to register their views and participate in debates over legislative proposals affecting their interests.

The workshop is not a novel idea. It was initiated in the last Congress before martial law.

Then-Speaker Cornelio Villareal sponsored a workshop to address the problems of the rice and corn industry.

He challenged the leaders of the vital sectors of the rice industry to draft the laws which should promote the growth and development and govern their industry. He also invited respected technocrats and key officials of the department of agriculture and banking institutions to participate in a two-month workshop which discussed all the concerns of the industry from A to Z.

The late Congressman Frisco San Juan presided and moderated the workshop of 39 people who were directly involved or knowledgeable about the rice and corn industry.

The workshop came out with a number of legislative measures, and two proposed basic concepts; first, giving the control of the industry to the private sector and the second, to create a rice quedan system similar to the sugar quedan as a source of continuing credit mechanism.

For the first time in the history of Congress, the entire members of the House were briefed on the bills who all the volunteered to sponsor the legislative measures.

The Grains Industry Development Bill and its corollary measures passed handily in the House and but got snagged in the Senate when martial law was imposed.

President Ferdinand Marcos, having been briefed by high officials in the agricultural department on the merits of the bills, issued Presidential Decree No. 4, making the grains industry bills the first pending bills in Congress made into law by presidential fiat. Unfortunately, the bright boys of the martial law administration mangled the original concepts submitted by the House measures.

They made the government take full control of the rice industry. It became a tool for political control. The quedan system was no longer feasible since the farmers were not organized as cooperatives and lacked the funds to set up industry infrastructures.

Workshops and full-scale seminars are far more effective consensus builders in addressing the most pervasive problems and concerns.
 

Mr. Ernesto G. Banawis was formerly legislative consultant of Speaker Cornelio Villareal and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.

Topics: Everyman , President Rodrigo Dutgerte , State of the Nation Adress , SONA , Congress
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