23 APRIL 2007
That’s based on the budgetary allocation given to the present Congress, which is P12.51 billion, and the number of laws it has passed so far, which is 84. Compared to its immediate predecessor, the 13th Congress had an allocation that was bigger by P1.27 billion. Yet it is 89 laws short of the accomplishments of the 12th Congress, which had posted the lowest output since the restoration of a bicameral legislature. That is, until this Congress, which has only three sessions to go once it resumes in June.
This year marks the centennial of the Congress of the Philippines. But judging from the performance of even just the present legislature, there may be little reason to celebrate.
Admittedly, Congress has non-legislative powers, including those to canvass the presidential elections, declare the existence of a state of war, give concurrence to treaties and amnesties, propose constitutional amendments, and impeach. In fact, if one includes the allocations for the Senate and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunals, as well as that for the Commission on Appointments, then one would end up with an even bigger figure as the Congress budget (for the present, around P13.56 billion). But the enactment of laws is the primary purpose of Congress, and its reason for being. Hence, lawmaking is ultimately the yardstick by which the legislature will be measured to determine whether or not it has been fulfilling its mandate.
Unfortunately, it looks like it has not. Since the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, the Congress of the Philippines has been passing fewer and fewer laws while appropriating more and more funds for itself. Worse, quality has not made up for the scant number of laws passed. Of the 84 republic acts enacted by the present Congress — out of 6,114 bills filed — only 32 are of national implication. (See Tables 1 and 2)
Four of these grant Filipino citizenship to foreign nationals. Using our previous calculation of the cost of a single law, the Philippine government spent a total of P595.77 million granting Philippine citizenship to Mahmoud A.M. Asfour, whose most notable contribution is the construction of a Rizal Shrine in Nueva Vizcaya, touted to be the biggest and tallest in the country; Michael G.J. Gleissner, chair of the Bigfoot Group of Companies; Charles William Mosser, whose foundation contributes books and library supplies to different schools in the country; and Rev. Fr. Ulrich H. Schlecht, SVD, a retired German priest of the Society of the Divine Word.
The rest of the laws are of local application: 12 republic acts pertain to franchise grants, like Republic Act 9368 (An Act Granting the Mindanao Jockey and Country Club Inc., a Franchise to Construct, Operate and Maintain a Racetrack for Horse Racing in Davao City). There are now also seven new laws declaring non-working holidays in seven different local governments, like R.A. 9413 (An Act Declaring April 3 of Every Year a Special Holiday in the Municipality of Luisiana, Province of Laguna to Celebrate the Araw ng Lubusang Kalayaan Bilang Bayan ng Luisiana, Laguna and the Pandanan Festival).
Fifteen laws, meanwhile, are on the conversion of various municipalities to highly urbanized or component cities. This means that the cost of converting the municipality of Baybay in Leyte into a component city is almost twice as much as the town’s annual income of less than P100 million.
This continues the trend tracked in the 2004 PCIJ book The Rulemakers, a study on the Philippine Congress: district concerns, rather than national ones, are given more importance by the legislature. Yet as Social Watch Philippines Executive Director and University of the Philippines Professor Leonor Briones points out, “Congress is not the Congress of the District of so-and-so. It is the Congress of the Philippines.”
But since legislators do not look beyond the next elections, crafting policies that would have an impact at the national level does not seem to be their primary concern. Instead, they are more interested in “bringing home the bacon,” as one legislator says, or providing constituency rather than legislative services.
Batanes Representative Henedina Abad admits that for most of her colleagues in Congress, the goal is to bring funds for school buildings, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure projects that would be tangible and visible come election time. “In fact, representatives of the House can be re-elected without even being present in Congress, without saying anything in session or in their respective committees,” says Abad, who has filed and co-authored 34 national bills and three local bills.
It is true, though, that since 1987, the share of local bills in the total number filed has dropped while that of national bills has risen. (See Table 3) Yet because parochial concerns are given paramount consideration in Congress, matters of national significance languish and more local bills are passed.
Briones does comment, “If Congress faithfully performs its function of passing the national budget on time, and does nothing else, I would agree that it has performed well.” After all, she says, “the most important function of Congress is to pass the appropriations bill.”
Yet the legislature has been remiss even in this basic function. For the past five years, the budget — the government’s lifeblood — has never been passed on time. Budgets have been re-enacted again and again. The 2000 budget was re-enacted for both the 2001 and 2002 fiscal years. The 2007 budget was finally passed three months behind schedule. And when the 2006 budget was re-enacted, it was actually the 2005 re-enacted budget for 2006.
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.