Solons push for transparency in bicam meetings

IN THE aftermath of the “disastrous” insertions made by the Bicameral Conference Committee to Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino and Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Teddy Casiño filed House Bill No. 6651 or the “Bicameral Meeting Transparency Act of 2012 on Wednesday, October 17.

“While public committee meetings and hearings are common at the House of Representatives and the Senate, transparency seems to stop at the bicameral conference committee. Critics have often dubbed the bicameral conference meeting as Congress’ ‘third chamber’ – a secluded meeting wherein contentious provisions are inserted without the benefit of public scrutiny,” Palatino and Casiño said in the explanatory note of the bill.

“Due to the secretive nature of the bicam meetings, we have already witnessed how bills that have been deliberated for years in both houses end up either as watered-down versions or, as in the case of the Cybercrime Law, more punitive than what has been agreed upon during plenary deliberations,” Palatino said.

He explained that in the current system, highly-debated pieces of legislation like the Reproductive Health Bill may also be watered-down without the public’s scrutiny.

During the bicameral meeting for the Cybercrime Law, Senator Vicente Sotto III and several other members of the bicameral conference committee reportedly inserted provisions in the bill that in effect made RA 10175 unconstitutional.

“Haphazard last-minute additions, especially in the annual General Appropriations Bill, have also resulted to various anomalies, including ‘double insertions’ and other nefarious acts that are eventually passed into law,” Palatino said.

HB 6651 sets rules for the conduct of bicameral meetings which will enable “transparency and maximum public participation” in the deliberations, Palatino explained.

Section 3 of HB 6651 enumerates the said rules, including informing the public of the venue of the bicameral meeting and allowing the public to attend and observe in said meetings. The bill also mandates Congress to release proceedings of the meeting to the public immediately.

Section 3(5) also states, “Members of both chambers of Congress that are not appointed members of the bicameral conference committee may attend meetings of the said committee. With the consent of the Chair of the bicameral conference committee, congressmen and senators that are not members of the bicameral conference committee may be allowed to participate in the discussion, but may not be allowed to vote.”

Also, Section 3(6) allows the media to cover the meetings and sessions.

“The impact of the creation of rules that govern society is a major public concern and therefore requires the active participation of citizens. As such, bicameral meetings should not be shrouded in secrecy. We are creating laws for the people; why not open the process to them?” Palatino said.

Palatino and Casiño, who are both co-authors of the Freedom of Information Bill, stressed that there is a need for Congress to make information more accessible to the general public by prioritizing the FOI Bill and HB 6651.

“Transparency and accountability are part and parcel of good governance. I urge my fellow lawmakers to support this bill along with the FOI to ensure that the public is not left in the dark on matters that will greatly affect their welfare,” Palatino said.


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