Crowdsourcing a bill: Will it work?
MANILA, Philippines — “Ito ang ideya ko, ano ang tingin ninyo?”
Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III launched The Guingona Project in the Senate on Wednesday, August 7, a website that crowdsources comments from the public on bills being passed by the Congress. The first bill now being crowdsourced is Senate Bill No. 73, The Philippine Crowdsourcing Act of 2013, refiled by Guingona on July 24 this year.
The bill, when enacted, will change the traditional legislative process by allowing the public to participate in the lawmaking process online. Apart from attending a regular public hearing, people can now choose to visit The Guingona Project website, send in their feedback on bills being passed through an online form, and have their comments published on the website open for everyone to read.
The Crowdsourcing Bill, according to Guingona, seeks to empower Filipinos' sense of democracy by allowing greater participation in the crafting of laws.
Breaking barriers of time, space, expense
Crowdsourcing, Guingona explained in his opening statement during the launch, is the process of getting ideas from people, which breaks “the barriers of time, space, and expense.”
“Wherever you may be, you can participate. You can give your ideas, you suggestions. You can criticize the bills of the Senators. You can be in your shorts at four in the morning, and still participate in the lawmaking process,” he said.
“Ang ganda sana, kapag may isang batas na lumabas, tapos may isang tao sa kalye magsasabi, ‘Alam mo, 'yang batas na yan, ako nag-suggest. Tingnan mo itong section. Akin yan. Na-adopt nila,” he added.
The Crowdsourcing Act, when implemented through The Guingona Project website, will give people more “access to laws,” which then enables them to become “more responsive to society's needs and aspirations.”
‘More brains equals more ideas’
The head of Guingona's legislative group, Golda Benjamin, is one of the moderators of the website. As there are presently only 4 lawyers monitoring 2,000 or more bills, she said that the Crowdsourcing Bill will greatly help improve the shortage of staff in screening bills filed in the Senate.
“Imagine if for example, there is a technology bill being debated in the Senate, and you guys know about technology, you can point out to us: ‘Hey, that provision won't work.’ Otherwise, four brains are not familiar with the topic, then maybe we could not have known that the provision won't work,” Benjamin explained.
One challenge raised is the tedious filtering of comments. The Committee Secretariat takes charge of manual moderation with criteria for screening: as long as one's input is “not libelous, off-topic or in violation of the law,” one's comment will be published within 12 hours.
What if thousands of submissions come in at a time?
Guingona answered, “One solution is to outsource to a research group that will synthesize and analyze. There are many similar comments so you group them together. Once presented, they can reduce them into two or three pages.”
The Guingona Project website, he admitted, may incur additional costs from outsourcing research groups to screen submissions. But he is not worried about this. “It enhances our democracy, it makes our democracy more vibrant. To me, there is no cost to that. That is priceless,” he said.
Room for improvement
Sen Bam Aquino is one of the key supporters of Guingona's crowdsourcing bill. “It's one of those projects I wish I have filed. But since TG filed it already, we're throwing our full support behind this project,” Aquino said.
He plans to make his Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Reform bill be the next crowdsourced bill.
Several bloggers expressed enthusiasm for the bill during the launch. Jane Uymatiao, a mother who blogs at The Philippine Beat said, “This is a milestone in terms of participation of citizens in the democratic process. I think this is the first step. There are many things that need to be refined.”
Oher concerns were raised, such as the segment of the population who do not have access to the Internet. Guingona replied that he plans to include a provision in the bill to accept comments sent in through the traditional mail service.
Crowdsourcing laws is not a new concept. Some foreign governments have adopted the practice of crowdsourcing the legislative process. In his statement, Guingona mentioned Iceland's crowdsourced consitution, which has a national identification system to verify submissions.
Pangasinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco is also interested to adopt the Crowdsourcing Bill in the House of Representatives, according to Guingona's statement.
The website is still an experiment in progress, and The Crowdsourcing Bill still has a handful of amendments to face. Improving these will now be done with the input and feedback of the Filipino public taken into account.
“I believe we're not as helpless as many people project Filipinos to be. We just need more venues to participate in government. We can start little revolutions wherever we are,” said Benjamin. - with reports from Ayee Macaraig and Desiree Tan/Rappler.com