Filipino students act as lawmakers in model congress
MANILA, Philippines – Over 500 students from across the country occupied the Senate halls on Saturday, July 27, for a two-day simulation of the affairs of the legislative branch of government.
The Philippine Model Congress (PMC) is an annual student-run and student-participated conference patterned after similar initiatives in topnotch universities abroad.
Organizer Lean Leviste said the PMC attracts youth leaders hungry for reform.
“You can really see in the effort that they put into crafting their bills that they are very serious about the point of this conference which is to reach out to the government and bridge the gap between them and the youth,” said Leviste.
Like a real Congress, bills are drafted and undergo committee hearings — an opportunity for young people to experience being in the shoes of the country’s legislators.
The conference is on its second year. Over 1,400 students applied, but only a third got accepted.
Seizing the opportunity
Sen Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, who delivered the keynote address during the opening program, said he felt happy that more and more young people are getting interested in government affairs.
“I think it’s a good thing. Magandang pangitain na marami sa mga kabataan handa talagang makilahok at tumulong,” he said. (It’s a good indication that a lot of young people are ready to participate and help out.)
In his speech, the 36-year-old senator encouraged the youth to never run out of idealism. He later on commended the delegates for their enthusiasm and interest in the legislative process.
“Well, lahat sila nakikinig (they were all listening). They seem to be very excited to come up with ideas and policy recommendations,” he said.
Political Science student Jeremy Moreno traveled all the way from the Visayas to seize the opportunity to be heard.
“[I am here] to let what my ideas are (sic) extend to our highest chamber of our legislative branch... I think by serving to government more than willingly and sincerely and honestly, I think I can contribute to the welfare of the people,” he said in an interview.
Aquino promised to consider the bills proposed in the conference, especially if they are aligned with his own legislative agenda.
Youth delegates of the Philippine Model Congress (PMC) passed on Sunday, July 28, a bill mandating the performance evaluation of local government units (LGUs).
“Unlike existing mechanisms which are facilitated by 'national' or 'external' bodies, my bill puts the power to evaluate and assess to the local members of the community with seats for the different sectors in the localities,” said Aaron Marc Dimaano, the main proponent of the Good Governance Act.
Dimaano’s bill was one of the 4 bills passed during the Model Congress.
“The bill was well-researched and comprehensive. I think this bill will effectively make LGU officials perform their duties to the Filipino people better,” noted John Jake Gregory Bustos, a PMC delegate who supported the bill during the plenary session.
Other legislative pieces passed in the 2nd PMC included the protection of heritage sites, a students’ rights bill, and the extension to battered husbands of the protective provisions of the Anti-violence Against Women and Children Act.
Lance Katigbak, also one of the original organizers, encouraged participants to continue fighting, even after the event, for the ideals they had collectively agreed upon.
“[The challenge is] lobbying for the bills that you passed by calling up the offices of your local congressman or senator. Tell them that the 500 delegates of the Philippine Model Congress passed your bill and that they should consider it too,” Katigbak said during his closing remarks.
Sharing the privilege
Leviste explained that PMC attracts some of the most engaged students of the country. He himself is a youth leader and is the son of Sen Loren Legarda.
In an interview with Rappler, the senator’s son shared his desire to share with other young people his “behind-the-scenes” access to government affairs.
“To me, it was about giving other people access to the opportunities that I had growing up,” he said.
Leviste’s personal desire was complemented by those wanting to join the conference.
Tricia Peralta, who sits with Leviste in the PMC’s executive board, said the most cited reason for participation, based on the essays of applicants, was the prevailing sentiment that they could do more if they were given the platform to air their views on pressing national issues.
Most of the delegates in PMC aspire to become future leaders occupying positions in government.
Bustos of the University of the Philippines Los Baños said he joined PMC to experience how it is like to be a congressman. “I want to help in making our country a better place,” he added.
Dimaano of Aquinas University said it has always been his dream to walk the halls of Malacañang and use his life “in the service of our great nation.”
“In PMC, that is your prime value: your ability to challenge status quo and present innovative and meaningful legislation,” he said. – Rappler.com