It’s not surprising that the House has been having a king-size problem of mustering a quorum since the convening of the Third Regular Session of the 16th Congress.
Historically, the Third Session has always been saddled by frequent absence of quorum, thus making it the least productive in the three-year shelf life of any Congress. This problem will persist unless the term of congressmen is lengthened through constitutional amendment.
In the Third—and last—Regular Session of Congress, most of the congressmen devote more time to their districts than to lawmaking. They must strengthen or mend their political fences—unless they want to be dead ducks in the upcoming election where they will seek either reelection or another post. I have seen many hardworking congressmen lose in their reelection bid because they had spent more time tackling their legislative duties than attending to their constituents. Why do you think several top absentees continue to be reelected despite their lack of performance in the House?
Sure, the problem of absenteeism in the last regular session may persist even if congressmen will have a term of more than three years. However, they will have a longer time to devote to lawmaking and this could work to the advantage of the citizenry. Note that in the three regular sessions of Congress, the first one is devoted mostly to organizing the chamber and its standing committees, which takes several months. It’s only after the committees have been fully organized that they could tackle the bills referred to them in public hearings. For the first termers, this is a time for learning the ropes (including how to insert “pork” in the budget?).
So, it’s only in the Second Regular Session where Congress is most productive. All standing committees are already functioning, a big number of bills have already been reported out by the committees, and the first termers have gotten the hang of legislative work. This is far from consoling, however. A lone productive year out of three years is not at all desirable. A solution, although this is remote considering the mindset of the populace, is to give lawmakers a term of at least four years. That will enable them to be more productive for at least two years.
Oh yes, Congress can push for more productivity in the Third Regular Session– and this doesn’t involve any amendment of the Charter. This can be done by amending its Rules of Procedure to stop the filing of bills on the last months of the Third Session. I find it inane that on the day that the Senate or the House is to adjourn sine die, bills on first reading are still in the Order of Business and referred to the appropriate committee.
The First Reading of Bills and referral to committees are time-consuming. There must be hundreds of bills still read on First Reading , although there’s no way for any of them to undergo the mandatory committee hearing, sponsorship on the floor, amendments and voting on second and third reading. To enable the plenary to devote more time to more constructive work, stop such mindless reading of bills on the dying days of Congress. Put a deadline for the filing of bills. The only exception could be bills certified as urgent by Malacañang.
* * *
I have a dream (with apologies to Martin Luther King)
I dreamt that the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), in pursuit of its demands in recent rallies at EDSA, has finally clarified its stand on the separation of Church and State. I dreamt that the INC leaders have declared unequivocally that they will no longer give the names of candidates to be supported by their members. After a meeting with government officials, the INC officials finally realized that they are violating the doctrine of separation of Church and State by insisting on command votes through their members.
The enlightened INC leaders, in my dream, acknowledged that picking candidates to be voted upon by their faithful has enabled the INC to wield political muscle like in the appointment of high officials of the judiciary, the police, and customs and the landing of hefty government contracts. It couldn’t pick candidates in the US and other foreign countries to be voted upon by their members because there’s no quid pro quo there, according to my dream.
That’s not the end of my dream. I dreamt that the INC leaders have decided to organize the INC laity and to regularly consult with them for the undertaking of needed reforms.
My dream, should it come true, could weaken the clout of the INC but it will gain more admiration and make it easier for its evangelists to attract more members.