SERIOUS legislation is for the grinds and the plodders. And for those who have accepted this paradox of good legislation – it often goes unnoticed and landmark laws are often passed without fanfare. Let us, for example, look at the efforts to amend the Cabotage Law that aims to allow more ships into the domestic trade. It sounds non-important and obscure but in reality, it is a game-changing legislation.
The first job undertaken by the proponents of the amendment in the Snate was to write the general theme on how the restrictions on foreign-owned, foreign registered carriers have crippled the movement of inter-sland cargo and made coastwise freight one of the costliest in the world. As the saying goes, it is costlier to ship a ton of corn from Cagayan de Oro port to Manila’s North Harbor than from Bangkok to the Manila South Harbor. That was true then. It is painfully truer now.
The justification for the amendment includes this: such kind of anomaly has been going on from time immemorial as the shipping law essentially protects domestic cargo carriers from foreign competition. Why this perverted view of shipping economics has been allowed to be the lay of the sea – when it is really essential to free the domestic cargo traffic from any flag restriction – is one of the crazy unknowns in Philippine legislation.
Now, there is an effort to amend the ancient Cabotage Law and the amendment ‘s passage will be coming soon. And everything about the painstaking, serious work to amend it was done low-key, no “Lights, Camera, Action.” I think I read about the amendment effort in one of the stories buried near the obit pages, the one-column stories that 99 percent of readers miss.
This will be a historic amendment by all benchmarks. Once a done deal, it will reduce the cost of domestic freight, boost inter-island cargo trade and lift the economy in an amazing way. And for full disclosure, I will personally benefit from this: it will make yellow corn (now COD-delivered to farms at P13.50 to P14 per kilo) cheaper to the livestock and poultry producers in Luzon. On the agri-side, the consumers will reap most of the rewards as cheaper raw materials will naturally lead to cheaper poultry, meat and eggs.
While the amendment can be easily summed up as the effort to lift flag restrictions on the coastwise cargo trade – yes indeed, the purpose is really that simple and that short — the process in realizing that legislative amendment is not, by any stretch, a piece of cake.
▪The proponents have to refute the powerful arguments of the domestic carriers. Though Cebu-based, the carriers are owned by the most powerful business groups in the country with heavyweight lobbies.
▪The proponents have to make compelling arguments backed up by solid research, from opportunities lost due to the flag restrictions on cargo bottoms to the skewed shipping rates that are one of the highest in the world.
▪The proponents have to show that this is the 21st century and only very few countries are still stuck to the old paradigms of protectionist shipping .
▪There would be graphs on cargo movement in the coastwise trade, calculated either in bulk cargo on TEUs (container cargos in twenty foot equivalent units).
▪The overall calculation on the limitless opportunities and limitless rewards that would be gained from lifting the flag restrictions on carriers will have to be laid down .
I will now ask a question . Do you think Senators Pacquiao, Dingdong, Isko and Bistek will have the patience to sit through months or years (out of the public view since nobody covers the important part of legislation) to write this piece of landmark amendment ?
Do you think they will have the perseverance and the time to sort through terms such as TEUs, flags of convenience, coastwise trade, shipping practices in most maritime countries, freight rates and the like and make them integral parts of the amendment?
Take note that the long and the torturous work that is invested in serious legislation such as this one comes without the cameras of prime time TV news. Reporters shy away from such issues and this is the reason why the most important worthy undertakings of the Senate can only be handled by senators not longing for media attention. This is as bland and uninteresting as the legislative efforts to amend the tax code, another milestone work that gets no media attention.
Do you think the four can work and legislate without a media posse trailing them? Based on the track records of senators-celebrities, the answer is No.
Celebrities have been a constant in the Senate, at least since the 8th Congress, or the first one that was convened after the democratic restoration. Incumbent Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada was a senator of the 8th Congress. The current Senate has four celebrities .
I was a Senate beat reporter in the 8th Congress and in my notes, Erap Estrada was ranked 23rd in dedication and commitment to serious legislation. Had it not been for Victor Ziga , who was 24th in my notes, Erap would have been the senator least concerned with legislation. Indeed, he used senate session hours to take power naps to conserve his energy – the energy he used to run for VP in 1992.
Of the four celebrities in the current senate (three action stars and one comic), two are in jail and the two active senators definitely do not have the plodding ways of their more serious colleagues .
Should they have seats in the Senate after the 2016 general elections, the Pacman, Bistek, Dingdong and Isko will, like the celebrity-senators before them, most likely be detached from the legislative process. They will be preoccupied with other things, but spending endless hours in committee meetings and listening to boring debates in the plenary, will not be among them.
So the move of political parties to draft them into their senatorial slates, will be a disservice to the country. And if they themselves love ouruntry, they should opt out of the Senate race and take their talents elsewhere.