Two or three generations from now, public discussion on the design of a People’s Congress that will take the place of the current Senate and House of Representatives—or in whatever form they may take as a result of a possible shift to federalism—should start rolling. The need to re-model the system of representation in government arises from years of experiencing dysfunctional politics, summed up by what I said in my last column: “A visceral extension of presidential clout, Congress—like an appendix whose usefulness medical science has yet to determine—is a costly prop, an embarrassment from which the democratic ideal would wish excised.”
A People’s Congress means the people themselves—defined here
as Filipino citizens, wherever they may reside in parts of the universe, who
are registered voters—will exercise all powers and functions performed by the
current members of Congress. A key factor that facilitates the viability of
this mechanism is communications technology, which obviously was not there when
the Founding Fathers of the United States of America travelled from 13 British
colonies to meet in what later became known as Washington DC. There they
plotted American independence and, starting in 1779, the two houses of US
Congress, copied by us to the last detail, became the venue for face-to-face
meetings among people’s representatives. With today’s technology, this setup of
representation becomes nothing but a remnant of a fading idea.
Here is a hint: Facebook and Youtube, to name just two popular
web-based people-networking platforms where up to 500 million users at any
given time can interact among themselves—these users can even host “live shows”
of their own—can make it easy for ordinary citizens to visualize how a People’s
Congress may look like.
It shall be operationalized by a fully encrypted web-based
portal, powered by alternating servers, that can host up to 100 committee
meetings simultaneously. To be able to join these meetings, a voter needs to
sign up first, then log in afterwards, using his or her COMELEC credentials. The
design of the website should be such that users will have easy access to
committee “rooms” where they feel their interests will be best addressed; its
functionalities should adequately provide for them to present their arguments
for or against any pending legislative proposal; and that user feedback is
ranked according to the number of “likers” or supporters.
The people’s initiative contemplated under the current
constitution shall become the default process by which all legislative
proposals will be submitted for review, debate, and approval, without need for
the required number of signatures.
A People’s Secretariat shall be established to perform the
functions of the current Secretariat of both houses of Congress. It shall
manage, in collaboration with the Department of Information and Communications
Technology, the operations of the People’s Congress website.
Existing rules on congressional protocols, such as conduct
of committee meetings and plenary sessions shall, as far as practicable, be
applied and maintained. Quorum—defined here as a simple majority of all
registered users—shall be necessary for the following cases: final approval of
a bill, impeachment verdicts, and ratification of international treaties. A
legislative proposal shall have 1 year within which to secure the required
majority vote; otherwise it relapses into a fresh bill and shall undergo
another process of review, debate, and amendments.
No user can have multiple accounts. One user equals one
The agenda for the People’s Congress in its inaugural
session can be limited to the approval of the national budget. In succeeding
sessions, budget deliberations shall have priority over other pending bills. Part
of the transitory steps shall include automatic refiling of all pending bills
under the existing congress.
Certain conditions need to be established before a People’s
Congress can be expected to function properly. For the moment, let us assume
that the free WIFI bill will soon become a law (this public service provision
can also be initiated individually by local government units (LGUs). Status quo
shall be maintained for the executive branches of government, including those
in LGUs, as well as the entire civil service system. However, a People’s
Congress for LGUs, patterned after the national model, shall be adopted
eventually, in accordance with a phased timeframe.
Through direct action, a People’s Congress gives life to “government
by the people, of the people, and for the people.” The next step: charter
change for the establishment of a People’s Congress through people’s
For dreamers like me, be warned that although unintentional,
this proposal will nudge some of us—especially those who belong to political
dynasties—out of business. We therefore need to be patient and be ready to give
ourselves away to this cause—like how a caterpillar digests itself before it
morphs to become a butterfly.