Congress fast on minor bills but…
When the current set of legislators was elected in 2010, we felt that at last we had a House of Representatives and a Senate with our interests at heart. In other words, a Congress that would get important work done. But more than two years later, what do we see?
Delays in the enactment into law of long-pending urgent bills that would strengthen democracy and curb government corruption (Freedom of Information or FOI bill); reduce maternal and infant deaths and give poor children better access to education and more chances of attaining economic success, thus helping our country meet its Millennium Development Goals, (Reproductive Health bill); and drastically improve the health and lengthen the life span of our more productive citizens while increasing government revenues (bill seeking higher sin taxes).
Instead, we see a Congress rushing a gerrymandering bill to needlessly split a province just to give continued employment to certain members of family dynasties, while it hems and haws on passing the FOI bill. We see a legislature not acting urgently on the sin tax bill, seemingly paying no attention to the suppression—allegedly by industries affected by the sin tax—of reports on conferences highlighting the dire health consequences of the growing use and consumption of tobacco and alcohol products by the young and the poor.
Thailand passed its sin tax law 20 years ago, and according to a former Thai legislator and tobacco control campaigner, it “raised enough taxes in the first year alone to build a new sky train system… while income of the tobacco producers remained stable” (“Thai doc: ‘Sin tax’ a boon to Thailand,” Inquirer, 9/10/12).
The delay in the RH bill’s passage because of the opposition of influential Catholic bishops is a throwback to the 19th century, when chloroform was used for the first time as an anesthetic in childbirth. Priests refused to permit a Romanian princess to use chloroform in the birth of her second child “because women had to suffer for the sins of Eve.”
Our legislators did pass a significant law: The Cybercrime Prevention Act. But what could have been a historical legislative milestone became a disastrous “blow against the freedom of speech in cyberspace” when a senator, accused of using plagiarized materials in his speeches and known for his reliance on “fringe science” articles on the Internet, inserted a passage from the obsolete 80-year-old libel law, rendering, for example, “a Facebook friend who ‘likes’ or shares a possibly libelous post now liable for libel” (“A blow against free speech,” Inquirer, 9/20/12).
Come election time next year, our print media could do us a great service by listing the top five pieces of legislation, top five issues and gerrymandering bills, indicating the way each of our legislators voted, so we can ensure that we vote only those who advance our legitimate aspirations.
—BENJAMIN B. AGUNOD,