Reli L. German: Is lawmaking a matter of ‘paramihan’?
What initially started as inter-chamber courtesy between the Senate and the House of Representatives being thrown out of the window has now become an open war. This, after several congressmen called for the abolition of the Senate for allegedly being slow in acting on various measures passed by the House.
In reviewing their 2017 performance, House Speaker Bebot Alvarez said they were able to process 2,100 of the 6,911 bills and 1,517 resolutions filed by his colleagues, with the House approving 518 of the bills, of which 39 eventually became law. And while indulging in self-praise, Alvarez castigated the Senate as the “slow chamber” for its supposedly sluggish action on the House measures. In an obvious dig at Senate President Koko Pimentel, he said: “The leadership in the Senate has to be a bit more active so they can pass more bills.”
Understandably, Pimentel took this as an affront on his leadership, and promptly fired back, saying that the House should change its mindset from quantity to quality. He pointed out that it was natural that the House produced more bills because local bills, like those renaming streets and schools or increasing the number of beds in hospitals, must originate from the House.
The Senate is a “thinking chamber”, Pimentel stressed, as if to say that the House acts on many bills in a willy-nilly and unthinking manner. He proceeded to lecture the House leader thus: “Let us not judge lawmaking in terms of the number of laws passed but in terms of how the laws we pass improve the quality of life on earth in general and the quality of life of Filipinos in particular.”
Aray ko po! Kung sabagay, no nga ba ang batayan sa paghusga sa mga mambabatas —, paramihan ba ng naipapasang bills? Kasi kung ganito nga naman, hindi kataka-taka kung bakit marami sa ating mga batas ang nagkakaroon ng butas!
But now the conflict has escalated, with the abolition of the Senate being demanded by the Speaker’s henchmen led by Reps. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao, Albee Benitez of Negros Occidental, Raneo Abu of Batangas, Ben Evardone of Samar and Winnie Castelo of Quezon City. They argue that adopting a unicameral legislature could speed up lawmaking. This could be done through amendments to the Constitution or the adoption of a federal system of government.
But which chamber should really be abolished, the Senate or the House?
On the basis of membership alone, the Senate is no match for the House on the number of bills filed. There are only 24 senators while the House is currently composed of 297 lawmakers. So even if each Congressman files just one bill, their output will definitely outnumber that of the Senate. And their large number of bills will definitely swamp Senators and their committees with so many bills to study and consider.
Some observers feel it would be better to have a Congress composed of one member from each of our 81 provinces. Or if we retain the Senate, the senators can be chosen through regional election. This will also correct the anomalous situation where of the 24 senators, Mindanao is represented by only three – Pimentel, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Manny Pacquiao – and the whole of the Visayas only one, Franklin Drilon.
Sounds logical. Regional election of senators should provide fair and adequate representations for the six regions of Mindanao and the three regions of the Visayas, even if Luzon will still predominate with its eight regions.
A unicameral lawmaking body will also be much less costly. According to www.gov.ph, members of both the Senate and the House receive monthly salaries
of P117,086. This translates to almost P1.252 billion for the three-year term of 297 congressmen and P202.325 million for the 6-year term of 24 senators. And these do not include the allowances and pork barrel of our lawmakers and the funding for their staff, office supplies and equipment which should run into billions more.
Imagine the billions we could save if we abolish — for instance, the House?.