Extend session days, shorten Congress breaks
KABATAAN Partylist Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino
May 7, 2012
Congress adjourned sessions last March 21 or 46 days ago. Sessions resumed today but we will adjourn again on June 7. The third regular session of the 15th Congress will begin on July 23.
Lack of quorum is often cited as the primary reason for the failure of the House of Representatives to deliberate and pass on time the government’s priority legislative agenda and other socially important legislative measures. Because of limited time, discussion of LEDAC bills is shortened and voting is often done in haste.
It’s difficult to achieve a perfect attendance in the plenary. This is only possible during SONA and the last session day before Congress goes into recess. Meeting the quorum requirement is a daily problem and it’s quite understandable because the House membership is almost 300 already. The House leadership is lucky because it is dealing with a friendly Minority (most of the time) which can technically question the quorum everyday. To avoid a roll call during the next session day, the presiding officer merely suspend sessions instead of declaring an adjournment.
If Congress wants to be more productive, addressing the quorum problem is not the only remedy. Extend the session days, and shorten the recess.There is no need to change the Rules if we want more plenary sessions. We merely implement Section 69 of Rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives:
Section 69. Commencement of Daily Sessions – Daily sessions shall commence at four o’clock (4:00) in the afternoon on Mondays through Thursdays and ten o’clock (10:00) in the morning on Fridays unless the House decides otherwise.
At present, Congress sessions take place from Mondays to Wednesdays only. On the average, sessions last for three hours only.
Maybe session days were shortened to allow Members to address the needs of our district and partylist constituencies. But we must not forget that our principal duty is still to legislate and that should require more work in Batasan. As a compromise, hold sessions until Thursdays so that Fridays can be devoted for district work. Legislative consultations can be done during Congress breaks.
In drafting the calendar for the third regular session of the 15th Congress, the Senate and the House should seriously consider a longer time for plenary sessions. But if legislators insist on holding sessions for three times a week only, then another option is to reduce Congress breaks. There are only 84 session days in the current second regular session calendar as opposed to the 98 days during adjournment.
Our present legislative performance leaves much to be desired.
If we demand swift action from offices of the executive department in addressing the concerns and problems that our constituents face in their everyday lives, policy and legislative work should be equally responsive. But in a year, just how many days do we spend as legislators talking about and deliberating on issues that warrant legislative intervention? Three days a week in only several months a year is simply insufficient to cover the multitude of concerns that plague the people.
Publish attendance in Committee Hearings
At present, only the plenary attendance is disclosed to the public.But in the name of transparency, we must also publish the attendance of Hosue members during committee hearings.
Plenary sessions commence at 4pm because there are committee hearings in the morning and afternoon. But only few committee meetings are able to muster a quorum and they are usually related to impeachment cases or budget matters. It’s SOP to dispense with the calling of the roll.
Committee work should not be ignored since it’s equally important to our plenary participation. Through public hearings, we can hear the comments of concerned stakeholders to our legislative proposals. This is the time when citizens are able to engage our lawmakers which is a necessary component of democratic politics.
Lobbyists and government resource persons are able to insert amendments or even block legislation at the committee level.
There are almost no issues to discuss or debate anymore when a bill or resolution is tackled in the plenary because the objectionable or vague provisions of the measure have been resolved already (hopefully) in the committee hearings.
Active participation in the committee deliberations is crucial to improve the quality of legislation in the country. Therefore, House Members must be compelled to attend both the plenary and committee sessions.
The initial step is to urge the leadership to publish the attendance of House Members during committee hearings. There are 54 standing committees and 11 standing committees. Non-performing committee members must be removed from the committee. It’s actually mentioned in the Rules:
Section 36 ….A Member of a committee who incurs three (3) consecutive unexplained absences within a regular session shall forfeit membership in that committee.
It’s the Speaker who approves the membership of each committee. For the record, I’m a member of only 11 committees.
Salute to the Hardworking Secretariat
We recognize the Congress Secretariat for their dedication, efficiency, and consistency in performing their duties as government employees. They go to work even if Congress sessions are adjourned. They enroll our bills, conduct research, process our numerous requests, monitor the floor proceedings, handle our security, and maintain order in Batasan. Their work ethic should be the guide for all Members of Congress.