Renato Tibon .
A SENIOR living National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose, still writing at 90, recently remarked that “the character of the leaders eventually defined the people and the nation they led.” He laments as we now do the decline of Filipino intellectuals, and if we may add, morals, of leaders in the corridors of power, content with its trappings but neglecting the one work they should prioritize: eradicate poverty. The under-performance of our representatives is indicative of a serious character malaise that afflicts those who are unqualified and lacking the skills yet still coveted the position.
What should our representatives do in Congress? In general, members are tasked to do legislative work that consists primarily of enactment of laws that govern relationships of individuals and the state (civil laws, criminal laws, taxation and political laws etc.) Authorization, appropriation, committee discussions, floor debates, division of the house are part and parcel of the legislative process. All government spending are likewise passed by Congress through budget appropriations which are a complex process in itself. Aside from these, congressmen amend laws, initiate impeachment process, affirm treaties, grant amnesties, confirm appointments or serve as legislative oversight. Congress represents their constituents. The House of Representatives (HOR) where the laws of the land originate is presently home to 297 congressmen that include 59 party-list nominees. It is the Lower Chamber of the Bicameral Congress, the other being the Senate or Upper Chamber. Congress is the legislative or lawmaking branch of government, a co-equal of the Executive and the Judiciary, each having the ability to check on the other to make sure that power is balanced among them. Without these powers, government will be dysfunctional and unable to meet the present-day demands and needs of the people. In the legislature, these needs are expressed through resolutions or bills, which are proposals for new laws and may exemplify the particular aspirations of their citizens coming off as platforms of political parties or through public hearings and sectoral representations.
In the House of Representatives where most bills are introduced, deliberated and passed, the more intrepid and eloquent members take the floor regularly debating their bills and/or interpellating fellow lawmakers. They lobby, hobnob with fellow committee members or even engage in horse trading just to pass their priority bills. The more idealistic ones project themselves as “influencers” with overarching concern over the greater good as much as they are forwarding the interests of their constituents. Yet, despite coaching and technical assistance of their respective congressional staff, many nominal congressmen (afraid of debates or gutless?) choose the tranquil path of relative obscurity breaking their muted deportment only through shouts of “ayes” or “nays” when voting starts. No privilege speeches. No grandstanding. Nothing.
This is where we start to oppugn the performance of our representatives in Congress. Are they always present and participating in the deliberations? Have they introduced bills that concern their districts and were these able to make the lives of their constituents better? Was their presence worth their pay? How many laws were passed with them as authors or co-authors? Have they served in committees? At the very least, we’re entitled to know what their committees have accomplished. Having submitted bills is, of course, different from having enacted them as laws. A review of the achievements of Cagayan de Oro’s representatives would show that since 1984 when then Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel Jr. won a seat in the now defunct Batasang Pambansa and up until the tenure of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (District 2, 2007-2016) and Rep. Maxie Rodriguez (Abamin Party list) only a handful of bills were submitted and laws passed. Most of them just wait out for their automatic appropriations, filed non-essential bills and/or join uneventful committee works until their terms were up.
Records in Congress disclose that among the city’s representatives, Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez made perfect attendance, enabling him to introduce the most number of bills and legislations authored or co-authored, that eventually became laws. In the 14th Congress, he filed 31 House bills, 449 in the 15th and 563 in the 16th Congress. Cong. Rufus helped pass RA 10667 or the Philippine Competition Act in 2015 after languishing in Congress for more than 20 years. The law protects the well-being of consumers and preserves the efficiency of competition in the marketplace to attract investors and enhance job-creation opportunities in the country. He likewise authored RA 9519 converting Mindanao Polytechnic State College into Mindanao University of Science and Technology (Must), the forerunners of what is now the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) made possible through the passage of RA 10919. A succession of bills and legislations followed which paved the way for improvements in the delivery of basic services and vital infrastructures such as the construction of roads, drainage, pathways, pedestrian overpasses and the now much utilized Cagayan de Oro Coastal Bypass Road which greatly helped facilitate the flow of traffic from Gusa to Opol, Misamis Oriental. He vowed to get more funds for unfinished projects especially for the coastal bypass and JR Borja Extension roads and other essential needs of the city once he gets elected. Clearly, with competence and experience, the work of Congress is cut out for him.
Will Kagayanons experiment instead with newbie representatives who will be groping in the dark while trying to learn the ropes of lawmaking? Or entrust them to someone like Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez who knows the legislature like the back of his hand having served in the House of Representatives for nine straight years.
Lawmakers are imposed upon us to represent and speak for their constituents. According to Plato, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” So, how do we call congressmen who don’t utter a word at all?
(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute [CDPI] with focus on political technocracy. He holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines [CDP].)