By Ellson Quismorio
Interesting, dynamic, a telenovela – House members used these words to describe their respective visions for the 18th Congress, which would undoubtedly give the finishing touches to President Duterte’s legacy.
“It (18th Congress) will be interesting considering the number of first-termers vis-a-vis the number of mid-termers and last-termers [in the House of Representatives],” said Capiz 2nd District Rep. Fredenil Castro, who served as the Majority Floor Leader at the close of the previous 17th Congress.
“It’s a combination of minds that, if you succeed in uniting, could result to a productive 18th Congress,” added Castro – one of the 52 congressmen who are on their third and final term. Neophyte House members (a total of 114) outnumber the likes of the Capiz solon 2:1.
Ultimately, the 18th Congress will be defined by the laws it will create, and National Unity Party (NUP) President Castro reckoned that “[Duterte’s] legacy measures are on the line.”
“And more importantly, long before he leaves the presidency, yung mga legislative agenda niya ay dapat natapos na (his legislative agenda should already be finished),” he said.
Castro’s likely successor to the Majority Floor Leadership, Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez, said the House has been working with the Executive on identifying the priority measures of the President ahead of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22.
“We really need to be in sync, Congress and the Executive branch. We can do this by opening communication lines and closer coordination,” said the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) president.
Romualdez bared his expectations for the 18th Congress: “I expect dynamism from my colleagues this 18th Congress. The holdovers from the 17th Congress will bring with them the workaholic attitude of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, while the new and returning faces will be out to prove their worth in the House.”
3 legislative priorities
Romualdez said he favors three main legislative priorities and policies of the Duterte administration, namely the restoration of the death penalty; the switch to federalism and Charter change, or Cha-cha; and zero tolerance against graft and corruption.
“The Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), which I head, has submitted its position paper in favor of the twin proposals of federalism and Cha-cha. We need to disperse the power of central authority in order to balance growth and development in favor of the regions,” he noted.
Romualdez further said Congress “should continue to support President Duterte’s zero-tolerance policy on corruption and ensure a fair, but swift prosecution of the persons involved without fear or favor.”
Castro and Romualdez are both coalition partners of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) party, which Duterte chairs.
Over at the opposition’s side, second-termer and ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro sees a bit of “excitement” and “chaos” in the 18th Congress, but claims that Filipinos will “end up as the losers.”
“It would seem that the tug of war in the leadership [of the House] between the allies with the administration will continue and seems like a telenovela because of the clash of personal interests,” she said, obviously referring to the Speakership race that’s top-heavy with Duterte friendlies.
“In the end, the people will be the losers since as it is now, proposals for Cha-cha, term extension, and other anti-people policies will be pushed by the President’s allies,” argued the militant solon.
ACT-Teacher’s Antonio Tinio, a part of the previous Congress, listed what he thinks should be included in the 305-strong House’s agenda.
“The new legislature should include among its priorities a new land reform law, since 600,000 hectares of agricultural land remain concentrated in large, private landholdings even after the expiration of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); legislation giving substantial salary increases to public sector employees, particularly the rank and file in the civilian bureaucracy since the final installment of the current salary standardization law has been completed this year; urgent repeal of the rice liberalization law; and a freedom of information law covering all branches of government,” he said.
Give voice to the opposition
Rep. Manny Cabochan of Magdalo Party-List – whose lone 17th Congress nominee aligned with the paltry but vocal opposition bloc – echoed a constant concern from their ilk given the numerical dominance of the administration lawmakers.
Cabochan said he expects the Lower Chamber to push the Duterte administration’s priority measures like Cha-cha, restoration of the death penalty, and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, among others.
But the former Navy officer also hopes that measures strengthening and further modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) would also get passed “to allow them to fulfill their mandates in external defense and public order and safety, respectively.”
Pro-farmer measures, please
Meanwhile, another neophyte congressman in Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat hopes that his colleagues in the 18th Congress would pour support for the country’s farmers.
“I hope that the 18th Congress will act fast enough to respond to the urgent needs of our farmers. I am earnestly praying for a pro-farmer 18th Congress,” said the Party-list Coalition Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) stalwart. The PCFI – the second-largest bloc in the House with 61 members – is seen as a shoo-in for the pro-Duterte Majority.
Cabatbat went as far to say that pushing for pro-farmer bills “would leave a good legacy for President Duterte.”