Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Political bills

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Aggressively being pushed in Congress today are several bills that are considered “political” in nature. The “political” label attached to these bills is not only superfluous; it is also ironic. When we come to think about it, all bills filed in both houses of Congress are political in nature and are subjected to political processes.

Still, labeling certain bills as “political” makes sense. These are the bills that are designed to advance certain political interests, never mind if the long-term or overall benefits of the bills are doubtful. In fact, some experts have claimed that the long-term impact of certain bills being pushed in Congress today is disaster. In short, these are bills whose passage are primarily meant as a political statement or are designed simply to appease certain groups or political interests.

The whole idea is quite outrageous. We can understand - although not necessarily tolerate - politicians who appoint relatives and friends into positions of power or grant business concessions in order to pay off political debts. But legislation is a completely different matter altogether. A law becomes permanent (unless amended, which can be a long tedious process) and has far-reaching implications. So politicians who trade their votes in exchange for some political favors are among the most contemptible people in this world.

Like I said, we have a number of these “political” bills clogging up both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Many of these bills do not make sense and in fact takes us two or three decades back in terms of our progress as a nation.

Because I am a human resource management professional, I will use as examples bills filed that pertain to labor.

There’s a bill that purportedly seeks to ensure employment of workers and security of tenure. The bill is obviously meant to address the issue of “contractualization” and “outsourcing” of jobs. This bill seeks to put a 20 percent cap on the number of jobs a company can contract out or outsource. This bill will kill many companies and industries. Can you imagine what it will do to, for example, pawnshops, which because of the nature of their business need to have more security guards than actual employees per branch? It will also be disastrous to small and medium enterprises, particularly start-up ones that rely on a third-party for their utility, messengerial, and security needs. The unintended consequences of this bill are just too catastrophic to imagine! And guess what, it has already passed the committee level.

Our representatives in Congress are also hard at work on a proposed legislation that seeks to mandate across-the-board salary increase to employees. This is madness, of course. First of all, wages should be a function of productivity and performance. Second, most companies have in place collective bargaining agreements with their labor unions. Third, there are regional wage boards that already set wage increases regularly. And finally, we already have one of the highest levels of wages in the region making us uncompetitive. Why our legislators would entertain the notion that they are in a better position to determine how much workers should get instead of the people in industry is stupefying.

There’s also a bill that seeks to mandate automatic profit sharing to employees.

These are just examples of the measures being aggressively pushed in Congress. There are more. And the scary thing is that these bills are being aggressively championed.

Many people point fingers to the party-list system as the main culprit behind this situation. I agree that the party-list system is contributory to the situation but I don’t think that the whole blame should be placed on the system. I have many misgivings about the party-list system, primarily on how the system has been hijacked by traditional politicians as rear-door entry to the House of Representatives. However, it would be wrong to put the blame squarely at the doorsteps of our party-list representatives, many of which represent specific ideological platforms.

The party-list system became possible because of a law enacted in 1995. The intent of the law was quite noble: To provide proportionate representation to sectoral groups, particularly, those who are marginalized. The idea was to nurture a “healthy democracy” by providing voice to groups and causes that normally would not get representation and access to the power structures in this country because of their marginalized status. It was supposed to foster change in the country’s political systems by introducing platform-based politics.

We now have more than enough party-list representatives in Congress and as can be expected, the “critical mass” phenomenon is now apparent. Certain measures that have languished and festered in some filing cabinets at the House of Representatives have not only suddenly broke surface, their passage through the various steps in the lawmaking process have become accelerated.

In the case of the “Security of Tenure Bill,” this current congress was able to do in less than five months what former congresses failed to do in five years - consolidate the many bills on the subject into one bill (H.B. 303). That’s amazing speed given the way our legislators work. Note for example, that the reproductive health bill has been languishing in Congress for many, many years now.

The speed in which the security of tenure bill blazed through the committee level is not necessarily admirable, though, because this particular bill is potentially disastrous to business and industry, and in the long term, to the very people it wants to protect—the workers.

How was this made possible? Simple. Party-list representatives, particularly those representing the labor sector, rallied around the bill and made sure that they had the numbers to create a momentum. And let’s make no bones about this: Party-list representatives just happen to be more diligent and conscientious in attending committee hearings, which in turn allow them to dominate discussions. Consequently, they are able to ensure that their bills get through, at the very least, the committee level.

Enacting bills into laws is a completely different matter, though. Party-list representatives may be able to dominate committee hearings but they still don’t have enough numbers in plenary to pass laws. And this is where, I am told, politics rears its ugly head. This is where the horse-trading and the quid pro quo arrangements are done intensely.

A friend who is privy to the goings-on at the halls of power swears that the kind of lobbying that’s happening in Congress today is unprecedented. But, he hastens to add, at least the discussions have assumed a more substantive focus. The discussions have at least taken on ideological issues and platforms. One wishes, though, that our legislators really keep an open mind and learn to balance various interests in a more judicious and fair way.

But still, the situation is spooking industry. Foreign investors are taking a long, hard look at other destinations abroad. In the long run, Filipino workers are at the losing end

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