Making the most impact
(The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2017 - 4:00pm

What is the best way to measure Congress’ performance?

In the book Congress Reconsidered, edited by Dodd and Oppenheimer, it was mentioned that while judging Congress by how many laws it has enacted provides an excellent sense of it’s legislative accomplishments, it cannot capture legislative failure.

 Meanwhile, an article in the Washington Post by Sarah Binder pointed out that if we are interested in measuring Congress’ capacity to tackle pressing problems, we need a measure that examines new laws in relation to the salient national issues of the day.

 We have to admit, the present Congress, dominated by the President’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP), has been helping push the presidential agenda effectively.

 With Pantaleon Alvarez leading the House of Representatives and Senator Koko Pimentel shepherding the upper house members, the legislative agenda of President Duterte is being realized. Legislation covering free college tuition, free wi-fi in public places, and the extension of the validity of passports and drivers’ licenses has helped the common tao realize that Congress is an effective tool in making government work for the people.

It also helps that House Speaker Alvarez has led by example, attending most committee level hearings at the House, and actively presides over plenary sessions. As a result, his fellow lawmakers now religiously attend sessions, so that absenteeism has become a thing of the past and achieving a quorum no longer a problem.

 The present Congress may not have passed as many laws as its predecessors, but the measures that it has been pushing, like the centerpiece Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill and the shift to a federal form of government, are landmark pieces of legislation that are sure to impact in a big way the President’s agenda for inclusive growth.

 In a September survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS), 34 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with Alvarez, while 26 percent said they were dissatisfied. The rest were undecided. Major events in the House during the survey period include the decision to slash the 2018 budget of three agencies, including the Commission on Human Rights, to a mere P1,000, according to an article by Rappler.

 Meanwhile, according to the September 2017 Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan Survey released last Oct. 13, Alvarez’s nationwide approval rating dropped to 33 percent, from last quarter’s 43 percent.

 But PDP vice chair and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi expects Alvarez’s satisfaction rating to rise, especially since a third to half of the survey respondents were still undecided about the House Speaker.

Cusi said the political noise that has centered in the House in the  past couple of months may have impacted on the latest SWS and Pulse Asia surveys, wherein Alvarez netted satisfaction ratings of 34 and 33 percent, respectively.

Cusi said Alvarez’s numbers have nowhere to go but up when people start feeling change happening in their lives. “When I read the surveys, the numbers tell me we’re on the right track, and we must push harder for genuine reforms. The Filipino people are waiting for us to fulfill our promises,” Cusi said.

House members also see Alvarez’s ratings rising, with Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia citing the Magna Carta of the Poor, Universal Health Coverage for Filipinos, Instituting Policies For The Protection And Welfare Of Caregivers, Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program, as among the bills passed.

Garcia said that they passed in record time the 2018 General Appropriations Bill which is now in the Senate, and that it was Alvarez’ leadership that rallied the 137 congressmen to impeach Comelec chairman Andy Bautista. 

For his part, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers emphasized that Alvarez has shown firm resolve and strong political will without minding criticisms.

History will judge societies and governments – and their institutions – not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless, American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez once said.

I sincerely hope that each and every government official and public servant takes this message seriously. They have this small but distinct opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their countrymen, and they should not let this opportunity pass.

Punishing the poor

 What the proponents of the proposed tax on sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) are closing their eyes to is the fact that the measure is anti-poor.

Most of the consumers of sweetened beverages in the country are from the D&E demographic. Should the tax be passed, many will not be able to afford to buy sweetened drinks.

Observers say the SSB tax in the Philippines was never about health. Studies have shown that obesity and diabetes are caused by a variety of reasons, not just the consumption of sweetened beverages. Filipinos don’t even consume a lot of sweetened beverages, which accounts for more or less than two percent of our diet. Almost 50 percent of our diet is actually rice.

The SSB tax is just about raising additional public funds. It is part of the TRAIN, so let us stop kidding ourselves.

Micro and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will be definitely affected. The Philippine Association of Stores and Carinderia Owners (PASCO) are against the tax, If their customers can no longer afford to pay for powdered juice or soft drinks, they will eventually stop buying. SSBs account for 30 percent of their revenue , something they can’t afford to lose.

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