Monday, July 28, 2008

The Opening of the 2nd Regular Session of the 14th Congress

At ten o’clock this Morning, July 28, 2008, the Second Regular Session of the 14th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines was simultaneously opened in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Much of the public discussion regarding today’s even is focused on the President’s State of the Nation Address, or SONA. A choral competition of criticisms and praises has preceded the SONA, which I think is like putting the cart before the horse. I’d rather comment after I hear what the President has to say.

But today’s main event is actually the opening of the Second Regular Session of Congress. The President’s SONA is a consequence of the opening, and she is a guest at the House of the People. The significance of the opening of the session is that the Filipino People, through their elected representatives, are going to exercise their sovereignty and determine the how they are going to be governed through the laws and other measures that will be produced by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

For me as a legislator, the opening of session is the marching order for me to fulfill the duty vested in me by the constituency who voted for me and the Constitution which governs my actions as a public official.

Soon after our session as convened this morning, the Speaker of the House, Prospero Nograles, delivered his opening address to the members of the House. It was his first address during an Opening of Regular Session since he assumed office some time February of this year, therefore I was eagerly anticipating what he was going to say.

I am one who puts premium to word of honor, and give value to what I and other people say. As public officials, the words that come out of our mouths should be held against us, under the principle of accountability. No rhetorics or double talk, just plain truth and commitment.

I appreciated Speaker Nograles’ address. He was quite clear with regard to the direction that the House should undertake within a prescribed time frame. He imposed on the House specific, enumerated measures that he would like congressmen to work on and pass by the end of 2008.

There is nothing more desirable in a leader than getting clear and concise directions. At least everyone is tuned to the same objectives and the progress is measurable because of the time frame given.

If there’s one thing that I can say about Speaker Nograles during his first few months in office, he is a man who is decisive and takes accountability for his words. One of the examples of this trait was his handling of one of the controversial bills before the House of Representatives. During an executive session tackling the matter (the proceedings of which I can’t disclose because of the rules on executive sessions), he gave everyone a chance to state their cases for or against, but when a consensus could not be arrived at by the body, he made the decision and assumed responsibility for that decision.

He did not struggle with double talk, evasive rhetorics and hide behind the curtain of Congress being a deliberative and collective body. When push came to shove, he showed he had the guts to exercise his leadership role.

So as he was enumerating the targets of the House of Representatives, it allayed any doubt as to where the Second Regular Session will take us. At least the course is charted and the timelines drawn.

But what gave me a fresh hope for the House is the Speaker’s statement that the House of Representatives will assert its role of oversight. In the recent past, Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, became a lame duck in the attack against its independence and duty to oversee the workings of the Executive Department. When Executive Order 464 undermined Congress’ role of oversight, the House of Representatives meekly succumbed to the challenge, not raising as much as a whimper to counter that issuance which was abused by Executive Department officials in order to evade and avoid speaking in congressional inquiries.

With the Speaker’s assertion of this congressional duty and right, I was given a reason to be optimistic that there may be a chance for genuine reform in the House and in government.

After the Speaker’s speech and the opening session ceremonies, we adjourned in order to prepare for the afternoon’s Special Joint Session of Congress to hear the President’s SONA. For sure, the media will highlight the impromptu fashion show, owing to the fact that many who attend the SONA dress up for the occasion. Then it will be followed by the courtside commentaries on the President’s speech.

I hope that in the wake of all the glamour and glitter, the pomp and circumstance, and all the brouhaha of this event, the Filipino People will receive the appropriate attention they deserve, and that us public officials, we in government will be able to deliver the goods to an already suffering constituency.

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