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Useless laws from useless legislators

If its legislative output last year is an indication of its industry, then Congress has been very lazy, indeed.  A high-profile election lawyer pointed out that last year, Congress enacted just one law at the cost of billions of pesos.  Perhaps many solons were so occupied with destroying any paper trail which may link them to the Janet Napoles scandal.  In their zeal to cover up their tracks, they simply had no time to legislate.     

What is worse than a lazy legislature is one whose members propose absurd, bizarre, or impractical legislation.  Many congressmen and senators do not seem to realize that the bills they file reveal the extent of their misunderstanding of reality.

Take the recent House bill about the compulsory display of the Philippine flag outside one’s home during the week covering Independence Day, ostensibly to make Filipinos more nationalistic.  By its nature, nationalism is a sentiment, a devotion to one’s country nurtured through time.  Nationalism cannot be legislated through the compulsory display of the national flag outside one’s home.

Another House bill seeks to legalize the use of cannabis, also known as marijuana, for medical purposes.  The bill cites foreign research data about the medical benefits of this addicting weed, as well as the decriminalization of its use in Canada and parts of the United States.

Since cannabis is admittedly addicting, the legalization of its use in the Philippines, where the drug menace continues to destroy the fabric of society, must be studied in depth.  Reliance on its supposed medical advantages as attested to by experts abroad is not enough.   Ensuring that its use will not succumb to abuse and corruption in this country is more important.  Towards this end, the views of local physicians, scientists, academics, social workers, anti-crime advocates, church leaders, law enforcement agencies, the community of parents, youth leaders, and the media are indispensable.   It must be stressed that in this country, law enforcement is and remains a chronic problem.

The House bill proposing a three-day school week is silly.  Education is not confined to the classroom but extends to the home.  That is why school children are required to do homework.  For them, a shorter school week will mean less homework and more time for non-academic pursuits.  As it is, the temptation to play truant is difficult for students to resist because of the proliferation of shopping malls and cyber cafes in urban and semi-urban areas in the country.  For the same reason, encouraging students to read has become a gargantuan challenge for educators.  Shortening the school week will only entice truancy among the students and will result in graduates with substandard training.

Another House bill proposes that the government should provide overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly those in the Middle East, with regular entertainment shows abroad.  The rationale for this measure is that OFWs, who keep the Philippine economy stable through their remittances, live lonely lives there.

While the bill looks like laudable welfare legislation for OFWs, it is largely impractical.  For one thing, the proposal will not be feasible in Saudi Arabia, where many OFWs work, and where collective entertainment of any kind, especially the musical type, is prohibited by its very conservative government.  Holding shows at the Philippine embassy or the consulate offices there may, under international law, exempt the activity from the host country’s ban, but these consular offices are not designed as entertainment venues.  Other countries in the Middle East may not be as strict as Saudi Arabia but there may be a limit to the extent of their hospitality and tolerance for the Western-style entertainment the bill seeks to provide to OFWs.  Countries in Europe protect their own entertainment industries by imposing huge fees on foreign entertainers performing on their shores.  Even the Philippines has laws to that effect.

 If the government is truly after the welfare of OFWs, then Congress ought to enact legislation improving the facilities and services of Philippine consular offices abroad, and providing more legal protection to Filipinos who are unjustly accused of violating the laws of their host countries.  Protecting our countrymen overseas is far more important than entertaining them.

The now defunct proposal to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was another silly idea.  First, it had all the time it needed to get properly implemented.  Second, while big agrarian estates may have been divided up, the new farmer-owners were left with landholdings too small to make them competitive.  The program was a dismal failure and this is attested to by the case of Hacienda Luisita where the Supreme Court had to intervene to correct an obvious circumvention of the law.

Some senators propose that the prescriptive period (the time within which a case should be filed in court) for anti-graft cases be increased from the original 15 years to 30 years, and election cases from the original 5 years to 10 years.  The Senate leadership explains that this measure will give the government more time to run after criminals, it appearing that some criminal cases were not filed by the government within the existing prescriptive period.

The solution proposed by the Senate is both preposterous and unreasonable.  Fifteen years is enough time to prepare a case against grafters and corrupt officials.  Five years is enough time to establish a case involving those who violate election laws.  If those cases are not filed within those periods, then it is because of incompetence on the part of the prosecution agencies of the government, and not because the prescriptive period is too short.

Legally speaking, while Congress has the power to determine the prescriptive period for the prosecution of criminal acts, the due process clause of the Constitution requires that the period be reasonable.  Therefore, while the accused should be able to defend himself if he is prosecuted for a crime, he cannot be expected to be ready to defend himself all the time for the rest of his productive life.

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