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Hopes up for 2 long-awaited bills

WHEN the new administration of President Aquino began six years ago, there was hope that finally two long-awaited pieces of legislation would finally make it. These were the proposed Anti-Dynasty Law and Freedom of Information Law.

The call for the first is actually part of the Philippine Constitution which was ratified in 1897. The Constitution has an outright provision banning political dynasties in Section 20, Article II, Declaration of Principles and State Policies. But it has to be defined by law; Congress has to decide whether the ban is for first, or second, or third degree of consanguinity (by blood) or affinity (by marriage). It has to determine whether to ban a mayor’s son, for example. Or to include a brother-in-law. Or a grandson. That could easily be decided by the members of Congress and enacted into law.

But the members of Congress never got around to enacting such a law. President Aquino may have had his favorite bills enacted by Congress but he evidently did not try hard enough with the Anti-Dynasty bill. Thus Section 20, Article II, has remained a dead-letter provision of the Constitution for 29 years now.

With the new administration of President Duterte, Sen. Franklin Drilon said he has refiled Senate Bill 230, a proposed Anti-Political Dynasty Act. It specifically bans a first and second-degree relative (son, father, brother, grandson) and spouse from running for or holding any elective position in the same province in the same election. These proposed limitations may be expanded or reduced. What is important is that a law is enacted to implement the constitutional provision.

The other long-awaited law – for freedom of information – was similarly frozen in Congress for years. Last Saturday, President Duterte issued an executive order “operationalizing in the executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies of full disclosure and transparency in the public service.…”

“Every Filipino shall have access to information, official records, public records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, and decisions…,” with some exceptions that will be specified and listed in an “inventory of exceptions” that will be regularly updated. Possible exceptions are minutes of high-level meetings leading to foreign policy decisions. Among the most awaited records are government contracts involving millions of pesos, such as those for the maintenance of the Metro Rail Transit and the Light Rail Transit.

It must be stressed that this is just an executive order covering only the executive department. We continue to await the enactment of a law that will cover the entire government, including the legislative and the judicial departments.

With the new Congress seemingly ready to work closely with the Duterte government of change, we are confident that at long last, these two very important bills – Anti-Dynasty and Freedom of Information – will finally be enacted by Congress and made part of the new government of transparency and accountability.

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