by Mark Gamboa
In Harapan 2013: The Senatorial Debate held at La Consolacion College in Manila last April 21, 2013, senatorial aspirants were asked for their stand on the issue of divorce. Independent senatorial candidate Teodoro ‘Teddy’ Casiño claimed that he was not in favor of divorce, saying that he preferred expediting annulment than enacting a divorce law. Casiño further claimed that he authored a bill that sought to include of factors like spousal violence, infidelity and abandonment as grounds for annulment.
Did Casiño indeed author a bill to amend the Family Code’s annulment provisions?
Three bills were filed by the 15th Congress on the dissolution of marriage. House Bill 798 which sought to include (proven) concubinage and adultery as grounds for dissolution of marriage was filed by Davao del Sur Representative Marc Douglas Cagas on July 5, 2010. House Bill 1290 which sought to mandate the state to recognize dissolution of marriage made by religious institutions and personalities was filed by Deputy Speaker and Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia on July 13, 2010.
Finally, House Bill 3952 which sought to recognize spousal violence, infidelity and abandonment as presumptive psychological incapacity that would constitute a ground for marriage annulment was filed on January 17, 2011. The principal author of the said law, however, is not Casiño but a fellow BAYAN MUNA Party-list Representative Neri Colmenares. Casiño is only one of the 39 co-authors of the proposed policy measure.
Beyond filing bills
Filing a house bill is arguably the easiest task for a legislator wanting to include issues in the agenda of Congress. It is the easiest part of the legislative process. Theoretically, a bill can proceed to the committee referral stage even without the intervention of its proponent/s. In fact, it is provided in the House Rules of the 15th Congress that a bill must be reported to the plenary for First Reading within three days from receipt.
What requires more attention, intervention and lobbying from a legislator would be the stages from committee referral until the President signs the bill into law. Congressional House Rules provide no guarantees that a bill would be calendared for further committee action beyond that of the First Reading. Every bill has to compete with other bills for legislative attention and a legislator who wants a legislative measure enacted into law must lobby for its inclusion in a committee hearing, writing of a committee report, inclusion in the Order of Business, et cetera. Therefore, it must be emphasized that a legislators’ track record should not only be gleaned from the number and the kinds of bills he filed, but also on his success in ensuring that these proposed measures are enacted into law.
Casiño filed 76 bills in the 15th Congress. Eighteen of these bills were approved on the third reading by the House of Representatives and five were enacted into law. Of the five bills enacted into law, none can be traced solely to Casiño as other representatives have filed similar measures before the legislator could file his version. It must be noted that the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 (Republic Act No. 10368) was also based on House Bill 54 filed earlier by Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada. Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas likewise filed House Bill 2414 which led to the enactment of the Recognizance Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10389).
The law on local absentee voting for members of the media (Republic Act No. 10380) and accessible polling place for the elderly, people with disability and pregnant women (Republic Act No. 10366) were authored and filed earlier by Reps. Marcelino Teodoro (House Bill 1510) and Godofredo Arquiza (House Bill 2296), respectively. None of the house bills initiated by Casiño, among which includes the Whistleblower’s Bill, were enacted into law.
Committee performance of the party-list representative as the chairperson of the House Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship was also unexceptional. Of the twelve house bills filed before Casiño-led committee, only two were able to progress beyond committee hearing (House Bills 213 and 1114 authored by Reps. Neptali Gonzales II and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, respectively. The substitute bill for the aforementioned measures, i.e. House Bill 4688, was not enacted into law.
Why should legislative performance matter?
The sheer number of bills filed every regular session encourages, if not forces, the Houses of Congress and its members to prioritize their time and put them on more fruitful legislative endeavors.The Senate is more prone to this exercise legislative discretion compared to their congressional counterpart for good reasons. There is a big margin between two houses of Congress in terms of their membership – about 287 district and party-list representatives compared to 24 senators.
This means that the Lower House can afford to designate a dedicated committee chairperson for each committee while the Senate is forced to give senators multiple chairmanships, affecting the amount of time a senator can earmark for specific committee concerns. Simply put, this makes it more difficult to process a bill in the Senate compared to the House of Representatives especially because the Senate is mandated to assess thousands of proposed policy measures filed every regular session.
As such, a senator has to accomplish two critical legislative tasks in the senate. First, he has to push harder for his legislative measures to ensure that they would be heard by the committee and would be processed within three years. Second, he has to process more legislative measures to ensure that the legislative bottleneck would not develop in the legislative committee he chairs. While Casiño clearly advocated for many important legislative measures, he was not able to ensure the enactment of these measures into law while in the House of Representatives. Can we expect him to perform better in the Senate?
Mark Gamboa currently serves as a political affairs officer in the House of Representatives. He studied in the University of the Philippines Diliman, finishing Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration in 2006. He is currently taking up Masters in International Studies from the same university. Beyond his legislative duties, he also works as a freelance researcher specializing in politics, defense and military affairs.