Top quality legislators

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My previous column on ‘burying’ EDSA elicited some discussion on how we can possibly improve Manila traffic. Some pointed out that even if we spent billions of dollars on infrastructure, this would be worth nothing if Filipinos would not be disciplined drivers.

This is true, but if having low-quality infrastructure can bring out the worst in people, making our roads top-quality can possibly bring out the best in our drivers.

I agree 100 percent that the Land Transportation Office must crack down on corrupt activities in license renewal centers and be extra strict in applications for new licenses. If new drivers were taught early on the proper and good fundamentals of driving, then they would be able to bring this discipline and attitude with them for as long as they drive.

Come to think of it, the same can be said of most, if not all, professions. Last week, 1,800 new lawyers took their oath as members of the bar, after going through a tough grueling Bar Exam. When one enters a company, he goes through a thorough entrance examination and an onboarding process in order to properly inculcate in him the vision and mission of the institution. Hence, giving a fairly tough time to an applicant for a driver’s license can pay its dividends on the road.

To relate this to our politicians, the House of Representatives, together with the University of the Philippines – National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), Center of Policy and Executive Development, has begun holding its Executive Course on Legislation for the New Members of the 18th Congress. This is a three-day crash course designed for the neophyte lawmakers, to be held in three legs.

This Executive Course is held only in the House, not in the Senate, since Senators usually have already accumulated years of experience in the House or in their respective local governments. This was raised during our discussion at the Consultative Meeting with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority organized by the US Embassy held last 8 June, during which this writer gave an overview on the House as an institution.

In the House, there are more of those elected into office with zero experience on legislation.

Senators like General Bato dela Rosa who are elected without legislative experience are outliers and quite rare, and would require special sessions on parliamentary procedure and the Senate organization, as discussed by Senate Deputy Secretary Arnel Banas of the Administrative and Finance Department.

In the Course Overview prepared by UP-NCPAG, neophyte lawmakers are expected to gain knowledge, hone skills and imbibe good values on policy-making, with topics that include the Legislative Process, Budget Process and Parliamentary Rules and Procedures. The Executive Course includes a mock committee hearing and a mock plenary session where participants can engage in a debate in a parliamentary setting.

To make the discussions more practical, experienced House Members were invited to speak, such as former Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez, Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo, Deputy Majority Leader Sharky Palma and former Appropriations Chair, now Cabinet Secretary, Karlo Nograles. The Executive Course ends with an individual pictorial session of each new House Member for their portfolio as members of the 18th Congress.

These Courses are integral in the professional lives of our legislators since initial networking is done here. Deputy Speaker Quimbo, during his talk, mentioned that he met his closest friends during his Executive Course held nine years, or three terms, ago. Verily, networking is key in a highly political institution such as the House.

In late 2018, I was sent by the US State Department to Sacramento as an observer of their midterm elections, under the International Visitors Leadership Program. I had a meeting with the California State Governments West (CSG West), which does similar training sessions for the legislators of the Western States. One professional development program they have is the Western Legislative Academy, a three-and-a-half-day program for capacity building held in Colorado Springs. I was told that there are only limited slots to this program which is very much in demand and quick to run out.

Looking forward, the House may continue developing this Course as a requisite for new legislators (since now it is only optional). It can be held in a more isolated venue to allow a more fluid discussion and networking without much distraction. If other government offices have their own academies or training institutions (e.g. BSP Institution, PNP Academy, etc.), the House can certainly have its own Legislative Institution that may cater to legislators from the national and local levels.

Email: darren.dejesus@dejesuslegal.com or tweet @darrendejesus

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