The filing of bills and resolutions is never a reliable gauge of how industrious a lawmaker is. The true test of lawmakers’ diligence is how they defend their bills during committee hearings and during floor debates. Indeed, the filing of a bill is a long way from its enactment.
In the mid-‘80s, when I was first assigned to cover the legislature, I was in awe of legislators who filed what I considered life-changing bills. There was even a time when I wrote features extolling those who had filed the most number of measures, whether of local or national application. Not anymore. Not after I had seen so many bills having almost similar wordings, including the grammatical errors.
Quezon City Rep. Sonny Belmonte Jr., who’s expected to retain the Speaker post, has reportedly expressed elation over the enthusiasm shown by congressmen at filing their pet measures in anticipation of the opening of the 16th Congress on July 22nd.
He was quoted as saying that this was a promising start and could even make the 16th Congress surpass the achievements of its predecessor.
I want to believe that a House media employee was the one who put those words in Speaker Sonny’s mouth. I believe that the Speaker is a person who doesn’t get impressed easily. The fact is, filing a bill is the easiest part of lawmaking. It doesn’t take much brain to do so. All that’s needed is for a researcher to riffle through the archives, the graveyard of unpassed measures, and pick what he considers the best.
He doesn’t even have to contribute a new idea to the bill. Neither the House nor the Senate considers it intellectual property.
Now, when the “author” of a measure goes to a committee hearing to defend his bill, then I start to get impressed. Very often, especially in the Senate, a lawmaker does nothing more after filing a bill. Perhaps, if the Senate Committee on Rules will require all authors to be present for their bills to be heard, then such cavalier attitude towards bills would stop. The authors should be the ones most enthusiastic in the approval of their measures, not the committee chairman. If authors don’t attend the committee deliberations of their bills, then those bills would be tabled.
The standing committee is supposed to be the workhorse of the legislature. I find it annoying that many senators and congressmen push and shove at the start of the First Regular Session to land choice committee. However, when actual committee work starts, very few of them attend, especially at the Senate. The national budget is the single most important piece of legislation at any given year. Yet, go to a budget deliberation at the Senate and you’ll find only two or three present. More attend budget hearings at the House but most are there mainly to see what they could wangle from the budget of various departments.
The House actually devotes more time to committee hearings than the Senate. When a House bill reaches the floor, it’s almost a done deal. After all, most of the thorny questions had already been answered during the public hearing and the committee report duly reflects such explanations. There’s no need, therefore, to be asking those same questions on the floor. There’s a House rule that I like—committee members who sign a committee report without any reservation could not interpellate the committee chairman during the period of sponsorship.
The Senate, on the other hand, devotes more time to floor deliberations than to committee hearings. I consider this more time-consuming. Very often, senators ask questions on issues that had already been answered during committee hearings. And why do they still ask those questions? Simple. It’s because they did not attend any hearing. Worse, some senators ask questions on the floor that had already been asked and answered. And why the seeming repetition? It’s either they were not listening to what’s happening on the floor or they were absent.
Those who attend and defend their bills are more industrious and more diligent than those who merely file bills, those who participate in floor debates, either as sponsors of measures or as interpellators, are more even more so. Some committee chairmen never got to sponsor any measure on the floor because they’re afraid of engaging in debates. In the 15th Congress, Reps. Pablo Garcia of Cebu and Edcel Lagman were leading debaters and they usually gave uncomfortable moments to their adversaries.
Legislators of the 16th Congress should be thankful that Garcia and Lagman are no longer in their midst.
Oh yes, I’m looking forward to the day when Sen. Lito Lapid will finally be standing on the floor to defend a bill or a committee report.