Visualizing a People’s Congress
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 vote.
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 initiative.
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.