‘Dead’ bills rise from the grave again

Efren Danao

Efren Danao

The first weeks of every First Regular Session is always marked by a frenetic filing of bills in both the House and the Senate. Some lawmakers file 50 or even 100 bills in one day. This may impress some new observers who’ll consider these lawmakers as very industrious and with keen legislative minds. Not this Congress Insider.

Look at the “new” bills filed and you’ll notice that they’re not actually new. I know for a fact that almost 100 percent of the bills filed before an inaugural session are dug up from the archives, the graveyard of measures not passed by the previous Congress. Thousands of bills are “buried” in the archives of the House and the Senate, just waiting to be resurrected from their grave by eager-beaver lawmakers. Indeed, why should these legislators wrack their brains thinking of novel pieces of legislation when there are many worthy measures waiting to be plucked from the archives?

This is not to completely denigrate those who file bills picked from the legislative graveyard. In many cases, these lawmakers are merely refiling their pet bills that failed to get the nod of the previous Congress. Sen. Tito Sotto, for instance, has refiled his bills seeking to create a Dangerous Drugs Board and amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Sen. Loren Legarda has refiled the Pagasa Modernization Act and the National Land Use Act, both of which she had authored in the previous 15th Congress.

Now, these are veteran legislators and they have virtual patent to the bills that they have refiled. The same could not be said of newly elected senators and congressmen who merely pick unpassed bills at the archives, file them and then claim authorship. Plagiarism is a serious offense among writers but this is a frequent practice in the legislature that has not drawn any censure.

A number of times, a new lawmaker filed a bill gathered from the archives without knowing that the original had also refiled the bill. I had often come across several bills having similar titles and wordings but different authors. I remember that Sen. Pia Cayetano once complained that one of her bills had been refiled by another lawmaker without her consent. A similar complaint was aired by former Sen. Nene Pimentel. A number of bills refiled by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago were also filed by a new lawmaker also; she did not raise any ruckus over this. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the Senate that in the chamber where the intellectual giants and senior statesmen are supposed to roam, there is no longer any regard for “intellectual property rights” insofar as legislation is concerned.

Oh wait, the copying of unpassed bills could also involve a veteran lawmaker. I know one who refiled a bill on the justice system authored by another who had already graduated from the chamber. The bill should have erased all doubts about the lawmaker’s mastery of the English language and of his insight into the justice system. Woe to him, the committee chairman who deliberated on “his” measure and sponsored it on the floor told me that the measure was actually a carbon copy of an archived bill of a “graduate” of the chamber. This lawmaker did not stand even once on the floor to defend “his” bill. Why should he do so when this would merely result in the public’s awareness that he actually knew very little about the bill he had filed. Of course, when it became a law, he proudly affixed his name to its title.

I’m not saying that our lawmakers are incapable of coming out with novel pieces of legislation. I know a congressman with many creative ideas. He loved to discuss with other congressmen proposed innovative legislation percolating in his mind. He stopped doing this, however, when he noticed that most of his ideas had become bills “authored” by the congressmen with whom he had discussed them. This is not plagiarism but I believe it can be classified as “theft.”

The most blatant case of thievery I have ever seen involved a committee chairman. I won’t say if the culprit is a congressman or a senator. Anyway, this committee chairman once conducted a series of public hearings on two bills seeking to ban turncoatism. His keen interest in this vital piece of legislation was most admirable. Turncoatism has been a bane in our political system; it’s the main reason why we have not had a strong political party system. His keen interest in the subject matter, however, went out of bounds. After those hearings, he himself filed a bill banning turncoatism. He even issued a press release claiming authorship of the measure. No, there was no mention of the two authors of the bill that he had already subjected to numerous public hearings.



Please follow our commenting guidelines.