FOI, anti-dynasty bills good as dead in 16th Congress
Pertinent pieces of legislation like the anti-political dynasty bill, freedom of information, and even the anti-discrimination bill would have to be put on the back burner for now.
This as the House of Representatives leadership would focus on passing bills which are already set for third reading approval, Majority leader Neptali Gonzales II said.
“Kung magkaroon kami ng quorum, unahin ko ‘yung third reading (If we’ll have a quorum, I will prioritize the bills which are already on third reading). I would rather devote time of the plenary to bills which we can reasonably pass,” Gonzales said in an interview on Monday.
Even the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL), which was renamed the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Area of Responsibility, was declared dead by the House leadership.
The BBL trumped all other debates on the floor as it went through the period of amendments and debate under second reading, but the lack of quorum and a diminished confidence from lawmakers derailed its prompt passage.
Congress lost confidence on the BBL especially after the Mamasapano incident, a botched anti-terror raid in January 2015 that escalated into a firefight between Special Action Force (SAF) cops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters.
The BBL would have implemented the peace deal with the MILF.
The House is rushing in passing bills on third reading with two session days left before it goes on break on Feb. 5 for the campaign period of 2016 election bets.
When Congress resumes on May 23, it would focus its time canvassing the elections results in the presidential elections.
On Monday night, the House plenary passed at least four pertinent pieces of legislation when it managed to muster a quorum – a bill institutionalizing and strengthening the public-private partnership; a bill declaring large-scale agricultural smuggling as an economic sabotage; a bill institutionalizing the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program; and a bill extending by two years the life of the Martial Law Human Rights Victims Claims Board.
Other pertinent bills which are still under second reading would have to be refiled in the 17th Congress, or under the next administration.
One such bill is the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which has been languishing in Congress for 28 years since it was filed in the 8th Congress.
The FOI was approved by the public information committee on Nov. 2014, after a year of committee deliberations. It was approved by the appropriations committee for funding on March 2015.
But the bill failed to reach the plenary, as it was trumped by the BBL debates.
The closest thing the FOI saw the light of day was in the 14th Congress in 2010, when it hurdled the bicameral conference and was supposed to be ratified in the House. But the lack of quorum eventually killed the FOI bill.
The passage of the FOI would have institutionalized a culture of transparency in government with its transactions. But critics have said the approved bill in the current Congress was adopted from the Malacañang version of the bill, which is padded with several exemptions to the general rule of transparency.
Meanwhile, the anti-political dynasty bill managed to reach the plenary for debates in May 2014, after it was approved by the suffrage and electoral reforms committee in November 2013.
The bill seeks to prohibit the proliferation of political dynasts in Congress. The original version of the measure intends to put a dynasty cap of one relative per politician.
But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who himself has relatives in elective positions, wanted the bill to be amended to allow at least two relatives in public office. He also said the bill that would be passed would allow politicians’ relatives to run in other jurisdictions and get away with it.
The original dynasty cap of one family member in an elective position was criticized on the floor for laying off at least 180 members of the 290-strong chamber. Meanwhile, a dynasty cap of at least two family members in politics would affect only 60 of 290 members.
Belmonte had wanted to pass the anti-political dynasty bill on second reading before it went on sie die break in June 2015, but Congress failed to do so.
According to the bill, a political dynasty “exists when two or more individuals who are related within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity hold or run for national or local office in successive, simultaneous or overlapping terms.”
Meanwhile, the proposed anti-discrimination bill based on sexual orientation and gender identity (Sogi) hurdled the House women and gender equality committee in February 2015. But the Committee on Rules has not yet even calendared the bill to the plenary for debates.
The proposed Anti-Sogi Discrimination Act seeks to penalize discriminatory practices on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Prohibited discriminatory practices include bias against employees, refusal to admit a person in an institution, denial of access to health services and harassment by law enforcers, all due to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Amid stiff opposition from the Catholic Church, the authors of the bill had denied that the proposed measure seeks to legalize same-sex marriage. IDL
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