REY GAMBOA:  A  CONGRESS  THAT  LOST  FOCUS

MANILA, JULY 16, 2007
(STAR) BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - Herculean challenges await members of the 14th Congress as it battles a nagging image problem weighed down by the penchant of the outgoing collective to excessive politicking and a seeming inability to pass urgent laws of national significance.

The 13th Congress indeed has turned out to be one that had lost its focus. Local and even foreign business groups and associations rued that too much grandstanding and preoccupation aimed at toppling the current Executive leadership paved the way for a lackluster overall performance.

While some bills made into law were noteworthy, a similar — if not greater — number of bills of greater importance and urgency were left by the wayside largely due to political squabbles, countless investigations and hearings of dubious intentions, as well as those doomed impeachment initiatives.

Of the urgent bills deliberated on extensively but ultimately left in the dust bin of the 13th Congress, I can quickly point out the bill on low cost medicines and the proposed legislation to create a National Tourism Act.

The bill on cheap medicines would have strengthened government’s efforts to make available low-cost medicines to millions of poor Filipinos. The proposed tourism law would have provided for an effective and efficient road map for the tourism industry.

Curiously, both bills were approved on third reading by the Senate, but were stalled in the Lower House. What gives, honorable congressmen?

Quorum problem

How can our honorable lawmakers craft laws of national importance when, according to records, many would rather stay away from sessions, thus failing to reach a quorum?

If ever a quorum was reached, what would be debated on ad nauseum would be the merits of charter change or the directives and orders of the chief executive. One other favorite pastime of our lawmakers was also to shake down presidential appointees appearing before the Committee on Appointments.

Records show at least 40 plenary sessions in the House from July 24, 2006 to February 6, 2007, but roll call was done in 21 sessions only. The House failed to reach a quorum in seven sessions, leading to adjournment of the body.

Extended debates

The Makati Business Club in its report at the close of the 13th Congress said that the low output of bills passed was due to the extensive debate on Charter change and the mid-term elections.

At the close of the 13th Congress, only 154 laws were passed, with a large chunk of them passed during the last session hours. The cramming, it seems, was more personally motivated since many of the legislators running again in the May elections wanted to show their constituents that they had done something that warranted renewed trust and vote.

As it turned out, the 10th, 11th and 12th congresses were markedly more productive – with 564, 415 and 173 laws passed, respectively.

Not only were there fewer laws passed, the 13th Congress also failed to craft a large number of quality, national-impact laws. Of the 154 that managed to be passed, a mere 39 or 25 percent of all enacted laws could be considered of national significance.

So what were the other bills about? I guess this is where our streets, schools, hospitals and government facilities get their names changed, usually after the patriarch and kin of our “noble and hardworking” legislators.

A few ‘good’ laws

Still, the 13th Congress wasn’t all that inutile as it managed to pull together several bills which business groups, including the American Chamber and Makati Business Club, described to be of high impact to the local economy.

Highly controversial laws pertaining to taxes were among those passed by the 13th Congress, such as the alcohol and tobacco excise tax and the expanded VAT law.

Other significant bills passed were:

• Republic Act 9335 on Lateral Attrition (encouraging officials and employees of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to exceed their revenue targets);

• Republic Act 9343/ Special Purpose Vehicle Extension;

• Republic Act 9367 / Biofuels Act; to develop and utilize indigenous renewable clean energy sources to reduce dependence on imported fuel;

• Republic Act 9369 / Automated Elections, which allows the Commission on Elections to use automated machines in the counting and canvassing of votes; and

• Republic Act 9372 / Human Security Act (Anti-Terrorism), which aims to enhance Philippine capability to meet threats from regional and global terrorism. It establishes various mechanisms to prevent terrorism from being committed, and sets corresponding penalties.

The passing of such bills, however, is only another beginning; there are implementing rules and regulations that must be dealt with, something if neglected could stall the implementation and enforcement, for example, of the Anti-Terror Law.

In my next column, we will discuss the bills of national importance that need to be re-filed since they were bypassed by a distracted out-of-focus 13th Congress.

PPT and Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) in Manila Philippine Poker Tour (PPT), the leading proponent of poker skills tournament in the country, announced its tie-up with APPT and its participation in the search for local qualifiers for APPT’s PokerStar event, a P25 million international competition to be held in Manila on 23rd to 26th August 2007. This is in line with PPT’s continuing search for local poker talents that will place the Philippines in the world poker map. To give local tournament enthusiasts the opportunity to join the biggest international poker competition to be held in Manila, daily satellite tournaments are ongoing at The Player’s Den, PPT’s clubhouse, located at 1786 A. Mabini, Malate, Manila. For a fee as low as P150, winners in the PPT multi-level satellites can earn seats to the APPT PokerStar main event without paying the main event’s $2,500 tournament fee.

For more details, visit the official PPT website, www.PhilippinePokerTour.com. Interested parties may also call the PPT Secretariat at 812-0153, 0917-833-6648, or 0920-921-8891. Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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