A congressman’s proposal to rename the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after the martyred senator's political nemesis, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, drew outrage online from those who said there are more pressing issues to address such as soaring inflation and a resurgent coronavirus.
Despite the criticism, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. was within his powers to file bills on behalf of his constituents, as are his roughly 300 colleagues in the House of Representatives, who can propose just about anything from new taxes to rewriting the Constitution to renaming public infrastructure, like NAIA.
Teves Jr. said NAIA should be named after the father of the newly-installed President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., not Ninoy Aquino, who was assassinated on that same airport's tarmac in 1983, as he returned from exile during the waning years of Marcos Sr.'s iron-fisted rule.
Members of the House and the Senate are elected to translate public sentiments into law and they should keep in mind that there are "mere agents of their respective constituents, or subordinate substitutes,” University of the Philippines political science professor Alicor Panao told reportr.
“As the true sovereign from which all government authority resides, citizens should actively scrutinize the acts and decisions of their delegates,” he added.
How a bill becomes a law
The 1987 Constitution provides that the Congress, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, has the power to legislate measures to be implemented by the executive department, headed by the President of the Philippines.
The lawmaking process typically begins with the filing of a bill in either chamber which will then undergo a rigorous process of refining, editing, and even revisions to make it more responsive to the needs and concerns of stakeholders.
The bill must pass three readings before it gets approved in the chamber where it is being deliberated. The first reading is when the bill is assigned to its appropriate committee for initial deliberation, while the second reading opens the plenary debates. When the bill is approved on second reading, each member of the chamber will vote on it again during the final reading.
During the plenary debates, the sponsor defends the bill before other lawmakers in the chamber. This is also the time when amendments to the bill are considered. Once the bill is approved by one chamber, it will then be sent to the other chamber for its own consideration.
Measures that relate to appropriation, revenue or tariff, authorize increase of public debt, and are local or private in nature should originate from the House of Representatives, with the Senate allowed to propose amendments.
Upon approval of both chambers of Congress, the bill will be submitted to the President for signing, formally turning it into a law. The president may also veto parts or even the entire bill, prompting its return to the originating chamber.
In the case of naming or renaming public spaces, guidelines from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines provide that it can be done through a presidential proclamation or a legislation from Congress.
“If a public place is to be named after a person, it should be after one who contributed significantly to the welfare of the Filipino people,” Panao said, citing the NHCP guidelines.
As the naming of NAIA is provided by law, only an act of Congress can change the airport’s name or revert it to its former name. The president cannot veto that particular law, nor can his proclamation overturn a congressional act, Panao added.
Why a bill fails to become a law
While it may have good intentions, it’s not always the case that a bill gets approved in Congress. Factors such as the support of the lawmakers, the timeliness of the measure, and the even the political interests of the legislators play a part in the passage of a bill.
For instance, bills seeking to rename NAIA have previously been filed in Congress but they never got the approval of lawmakers.
“Procedurally, legislative proposals must muster the required number. In other words, for a bill to become law, there has to be a concurrence among legislators that the subject is important enough to warrant legislative attention on top of other policy priorities,” Panao said.
Lawmakers in previous Congresses may have felt that renaming NAIA was not as urgent as other bills before them. “It is also possible that—given the political meaning attached to the Aquinos and their legacy—legislators felt the proposal would be divisive and potentially put their own political ambitions or trajectories at risk,” Panao added.
How can you participate in lawmaking
While legislators have the authority to craft and pass laws, citizens themselves can also participate in the lawmaking process, especially if they believe that there is a measure that needs to be passed or should not be allowed to pass.
For instance, politically engaged individuals may submit draft proposals or lobby for laws before their lawmakers, attend committee hearings during the policy deliberations, or even join marches, boycotts, sit-ins or other forms of protest to show their support or objection to a measure, Panao said.
Signing petitions, participating in political discussions online, campaigning and voting for the candidates that truly represent people's interests are also ways to show political participation among Filipinos. Of course, if they feel they can do a better job by being part of the government, they can also run for office, the political scientist added.
“Democracy benefits when citizens participate directly or indirectly in the legislative process by strengthening the legitimacy of institutions, building trust and confidence in parliamentary decision making, and improving collective intelligence toward policy outcomes,” Panao said.