THE 16th Congress of the Philippine Republic will be remembered in history as “the congress that gave up” in its vital work of legislation. It will be placed on record that this Congress was led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte in the House of Representatives, and by Senate President Franklin Drilon in the upper house.
The words of surrender, one week before adjournment of the current session, have been proclaimed by Congress itself.
No less than the House leadership has hoisted the white flag of surrender with respect to the chances that the 16th Congress will pass certain vital bills before it adjourns on Friday, February 5.
Three major bills have been given up for lost by the House, because of the chamber’s inability to constitute a genuine quorum, so it can conduct business.
These bills are; (1) the resolution for economic charter change; and (2) the freedom of information Act, and (3) the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Some will say that the news that Congresss has given up is not bad with respect to legislative initiatives that should not be enacted into law to begin with.
Giving up on BBL is salutary
It is clearly fortunate and salutary that Congress is now impotent to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). For a while, President Aquino scared the nation that he would railroad the measure through a compliant Congress.
The Bangsamoro bill has not moved forward because there is strong opposition in both houses to the proposal for a Bangsamoro substate, or a Bangsamoro Autonomous region (to replace ARMM) as some are proposing.
Opposition is so strong in the house that representatives are deliberately absenting themselves from sessions in order to avoid being cajoled into supporting the highly unpopular measure. .
Failure on this front is to be welcomed. Less salutary is the abject failure to pass the resolution for limited economic charter change, and the Freedom of Information Act, both of which are vital policies for placing the Philippines in a better position to compete in the global economy and to stem the tide of official corruption.
These reforms should be pressed during the runup to the presidential elections in May so that they will be endorsed or championed by the leading presidential contenders.
Congress on vacation before it adjourns
Congress at this point appears to be already on vacation, even before it adjourns.
The situation is unhealthy and dangerous for our constitutional government. It has weakened a vital branch of government at a critical time in world history when the global economy is going through a rough patch, when international terrorism heralded by the Islamic caliphate is spreading its fangs to Southeast Asia, and China is pushing hard its territorial claims in the South China (or West Philippine) Sea.
We need a working Congress to advise and consent to the administration on these vital issues. President Aquino, with his limited understanding of world affairs cannot navigate these waters alone. He needs the counsel of statesmen and serious legislators.
To conclude, we in the Times believe that the “giving up” declaration by the 16th Congress should be taken with a pinch of salt, and treated by the public as an opportunity to effect changes, even an overhaul, in the composition of both houses of Congress.
Finally, the news of a congress that has given up would be great news if it meant that our legislators have given up on looting the public treasury for their pork barrel and their DAP allocations.
A sober reappraisal of the work of Congress by congressional members and voters alike should prepare the way for a 17th Congress that can effect reforms and join the vanguard for national transformation.