Last month, Haribon, along with many different organizations, joined a rally to greet the start of the Philippines’ Sixteenth Congress with a call to our lawmakers to pass three urgent environmental bills into laws: the National Land Use Act, the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, and the Forest Resources Bill (FRB).
To date, the bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the two houses of Congress, by our legislative champions. In the case of the FRB, the bill was filed by Representatives Teddy Baguilat, Kaka Bag-ao and Mel Sarmiento and Sen. Serge Osmena. For the Sixteenth Congress, the Forest Resources Bill is now House Bill (HB) 95 and Senate Bill (SB) 45 in the Senate.
Briefly, the Forest Resources Bill contains provisions that ensure the all-out
protection and conservation of our forests, so that we may enjoy the benefits we derive from forests sustainably. Forest restoration is prioritized. Local governments will be empowered to play important roles in forest management. The watershed continuum is recognized as the basic forestland management unit. Indigenous people’s rights will also be protected.
But filing the bill is just a first step in what could potentially become a long process.
What happens next?
Getting a proposed law (a bill) enacted passes through several major steps, of which filing can be step 1. Broadly speaking, a bill undergoes three major “readings” in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it gets signed by the President.
The First Reading is when the bill’s title and number are read and where it gets referred to the appropriate Congressional/Senate committees. The committees study the bill under consideration. This is where resource persons, the private sector, the academe and other experts get to be invited in hearings and where committee members discuss the bill. The Second Reading is where the period of amendment happens.
The Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives is chaired by Rep. Francisco Matugas of Surigao del Norte, while the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is under Sen. Loren Legarda.
Then on Third Reading, the House members (either in Congress or in the Senate) vote on the bill in its entirety, on whether to approve the bill or not. No amendment of the bill is allowed at this stage.
These processes (of the three “readings”) must happen in both Congress and the Senate, and the two Houses consolidate their versions after they approve their own versions. The consolidated bill is then submitted to President Benigno Aquino 3rd for signing—which, of course, he may not do.
But these are drastically shortened descriptions of the entire process. In fact, at every step of the way, there are different dynamics at play—such as party politics and vested interests. A key concept is that getting a bill passed is a “numbers game” —we must get as many legislators to our side as we can and show them the importance of the cause to fight for a new legal framework that will cover our forests.