House bill pushes transparency in bicam meetings
MANILA, Philippines - Two party-list lawmakers urged the Senate and the House of Representatives to open bicameral committee hearings to the public to avoid last-minute insertions in light of recent controversies on the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
Bayan Muna Partylist Rep Teddy Casiño and Kabataan Partylist Rep Raymond Palatino, who are both seeking to repeal the Anti-Cybercrime Law, filed House Bill No. 6651 or the Bicameral Meeting Transparency Act of 2012 on Wednesday, October 17.
In the explanatory note of the bill, the authors said that although public committee hearings at the House of Representatives and the Senate are open to the public, transparency ends when deliberations reach the bicameral 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,” the note said.
Before a law is transmitted to the President for approval, representatives from both chambers of Congress meet in a bicameral conference to reconcile conflicting provisions from their respective versions.
It was during the bicameral meeting for the Anti-Cybercrime Law when members of the bicam committee, including Sen Vicente Sotto III, allegedly inserted provisions of libel that were not part of the original bill.
“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.
The provisions of the bill include, among others, allowing the public, the media, and lawmakers, who are not appointed members of the bicameral conference committee, to attend bicameral meetings.
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.”
Palatino also called on lawmakers to prioritize the Freedom of Information Bill, which is yet to be approved on committee level.
“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. - Rappler.com