A pro-people wish list
Congress has resumed sessions this week after a three-month break for the midterm elections. Its two houses—the Senate and the House of Representatives—have revealed their priority measures in their remaining nine session days before formally adjourning. They tout these as “pro-people measures,” but the people themselves can see right through pretty labels and call out the more objectionable aspects of our lawmakers’ priorities.
For instance, human rights groups and indigenous peoples advocates continue to caution against the proposed Senate Bill No. 2204. Named the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019, it seeks to amend the current Human Security Act. Among the proposed changes are extending the detention period of suspected persons from three days to 14—even without a judicial warrant of arrest.
Advocates say that such amendments could trample on civil liberties such as freedom of expression and the right to due process. Yet the Anti-Terrorism Act is among the top measures that the Senate aims to finish in the next couple of weeks.
A more upsetting measure on our legislators’ agenda is Senate Bill No. 2198, which aims to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA). Under the proposal, the minimum age of criminal responsibility would be lowered from 15 to 12, which means that children as young as 12 years old would be held criminally accountable for offenses.
When the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill early this year, a saner portion of the Filipino public strongly condemned it. People called instead for a full and effective implementation of existing child welfare laws. The JJWA, for one, already covers juvenile delinquency, with an approach geared toward the rehabilitation and reintegration of children in conflict with the law.
The real need is for our existing juvenile justice law to be better implemented, especially in terms of youth rehabilitation facilities and services. SB 2198 misses this by a wide mark, but now, this very bill is on its way to its second reading.
Lawmakers who are truly pro-people would not disregard fundamental human rights and children’s welfare. Instead, those would be among their prime concerns.
To be fair, several other priority measures of the Senate and House of Representatives may address more urgent public needs. These include amending the Salary Standardization Law, establishing the Mindanao Railways Authority and creating the overseas Filipino worker sovereign fund. Just this Wednesday, the Senate approved the Security of Tenure Act, which restricts labor contractualization or “endo.”
While these are laudable, there are crucial concerns that are sorely missing from the announced priority bills. For one, there is no mention of any proposal on genuine and science-based agricultural development. This, despite the recent pleas for help of rice farmers who are struggling from the drop in palay prices. In fact, the entire agriculture sector contracted further in the first quarter of this year.
There is also a need for better working conditions for health workers. Filipino nurses and doctors have long decried the “toxic” labor practices in both state and private institutions, which ultimately diminish the quality of health care citizens receive. But save for the years-old pay hike petition for government nurses (which was even blocked), there has not been a real development in improving the health care job sector—particularly not from our legislators.
The 17th Congress may not consider these concerns as priorities, but these are matters that directly impact the people they claim to serve. Perhaps if lawmaking in the Philippines weren’t polluted with so much political bickering and cliquish vendettas, more could be done for the public.
We can only hope that with the newly elected senators and representatives comes a renewed—and evident—commitment to the Filipino people.
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