Participatory lawmaking

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Philippine legislators are put in the limelight for the wrong reasons to the point that the public forgets that their main job mainly is to legislate. We all have a stake in legislation since we vote our legislators to their offices and we, as taxpayers, pay for their salaries, benefits and perks. For the House of Representatives, the congressmen’s stakeholders are their constituents (for district representatives) or sector members (for partylist representatives).

“The idea is to come up with innovative initiatives that will bring legislation to the people, making true the concept of participatory lawmaking made famous in other countries.

Even those who do not vote are stakeholders because the laws affect each and every one of us. Foreigners are stakeholders since they visit our country as tourists or for business, and pay taxes and fees that go to the Philippines’ coffers. Lastly, other governments have an interest due to our pivotal role in international relations, not to mention the strong presence of Filipinos worldwide.

It is thus important for government to pursue strategic partnerships with these stakeholders, so that it can legislate better and more meaningful laws, not self-serving ones. Laws are guideposts for behavior and conduct. These provide for policy, safeguard citizens, resolve disputes and may improve the lives of every Filipino. A country riddled with bad, outdated laws that are not in touch with the genuine needs of its citizens may be headed for a disaster. A government reacts faster and more efficiently if it has sound laws which are actually followed and enforced.

One way to establish this is by recognizing media as having an integral role in governance.

Media are the government watchdog that ensures public accountability. But then again, we have to be wary of fake news and ensure the message is accurately conveyed. For a huge institution such as the House of Representatives, consisting of nearly 300 congressmen, it is difficult to gather everyone together since each bloc has its own interest. The Speaker has been doing the right thing by establishing its brand for the institution as a tough no-nonsense government office, carrying the official hashtag — #TheWorkingHousePH — and by repeating keywords to the media, i.e. “selectively hands-on,” “oversight function” and “President’s legislative agenda.” This improves name recall that would proactively raise public awareness and appreciation of the House’s milestone accomplishments.

Public relations may be improved by being more engaging with the stakeholders. Thanks to social media, it is now possible to connect with the citizens. However, social media must be used wisely, and can be a notch higher than just mere posting photos of yourself working and meeting with people. (I am actually a believer that if a person keeps posting photos of himself doing stuff, it means that he isn’t actually doing stuff.) Social media is a tool for politicians to actually engage and learn from the people. Stories can be told through social media, like how laws have benefited Filipinos.

As mentioned, international diplomatic relations must be strengthened as our ties with foreign countries may benefit the Philippine economy and its citizens’ well-being. There are over 10 million Filipinos working overseas. By forging partnerships and strengthening linkages, our shared purpose may be better realized in pursuit of development and uplifting the lives of Filipino families.

In the House, we have existing friendship groups with foreign parliamentarians that may be worth revisiting. Our legislators are always invited to attend official events abroad, and it is our duty that they attend equipped and ready, so they can proactively participate and develop partners interested to assist or collaborate with the Philippines in different activities. A stable secretariat may be established to ensure knowledge sharing when it comes to international events to ensure continuity despite the change of elected officials tasked to attend these.

“International diplomatic relations must be strengthened as our ties with foreign countries may benefit the Philippine economy and its citizens’
well-being.

Looking forward, the vision of the House of becoming a world-class organization modeling best practices and innovation may be achieved. The idea is to come up with innovative initiatives that will bring legislation to the people, making true the concept of participatory lawmaking made famous in other countries, such as Brazil and Portugal. Here, citizens have a direct say on the substance of the bills to be passed. Through the use of technology, stakeholders may comment on specific provisions that must be considered by legislators.

This would be democracy at its finest, giving life to the constitutional proverb that sovereignty resides in the people.

Although in our 1987 Constitution, the people, through initiative and referendum, may directly propose laws to be enacted, this activity has almost never been used since elections have not proven to be a true democratic exercise in the Philippines, thanks to patronage politics and vote-buying. Hopefully, there will come a time when Filipino citizens themselves can legislate freely which can lead to the more complex exercise of participatory budgeting, a practice done in Brazil and Boston. Then, we would not probably have a problem of having insertions and a reenacted budget like what we have now.

Email: darren.dejesus@house.gov.ph

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