Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Based on my presentation during the Emerging Youth Leaders training at the Asian Institute of Management, July 20, 2013

1. There are lobbyists and there are registered lobbyists. But in the Philippines, there are only lobbyists. Unknown to many, a law was signed in 1957 which was supposed to regulate lobbying in Congress and in the Commission on Appointments. Under the law, lobbyists are required to get a license from the government. They are also ordered to submit regular financial reports. But according to the records of the House of Representatives and the Senate, no lobbyist has applied for registration. It is odd because lobbyists of all stripes – professional, in-house, foreign think-tanks, NGOs – have always played an important role in the legislation process. Is it time to implement the law? Registration is already impractical but the provision reminding lobby groups to renounce corruption and other unethical practices should be strictly enforced.

2. There are already more than one thousand bills and resolutions in the records of the 16th Congress but only several dozens will be officially adopted by the plenary. Then, a smaller number of these measures will be signed into law by the president. Who identifies the legislative agenda? Who decides which bills will pass the legislative mill? The Malacanang. Institutionalized meddling of the Executive in the affairs of Congress is provided courtesy of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council and the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office. The fastest way to promote or reject a Congress measure is through these offices. Well-funded lobbyists are notoriously spending a huge amount of their time, energy, and resources to be visible and close to the politicians in these offices.

Ah and yes, the speaker’s speech is sometimes useful to track the progress of key legislative measures.

3. A lobbyist who plans to meet the 300 legislators is a false lobbyist. He is also not a human being. Why talk to absentee solons? Why waste effort on OJT legislators? (Apologies to OJT students). A real lobbyist will prioritize the committee chairperson because the latter decides which measures will be tackled in committee hearings. If the chair is missing in action or watching a game in Nevada, the next important person to contact is the committee secretary or comsec. The comsec can directly approach the chair, he can also draft the initial agenda of the committee, and he is always present in Batasan. Persuade the comsec to include your group in the committee directory of resource persons.

There is only one committee chair but there are several vice chairpersons. For example, in the 15th Congress, Rep Unico was chairman of the Youth and Sports Committee but he has four vice chairpersons: Pacquiao, Cojuangco, Sambar, and this author. What is the role of the vice chairpersons in the committee? Practically nothing. One of them can preside the committee meeting but only if the chair delegated that task to him which rarely happens. If lobbyists can’t get close to the committee chair, they can ask the vice chairpersons to do the lobbying for them. The power tripping chair can ignore lobbyists by placing many layers or barriers between his office and the public but he can’t easily dismiss a colleague and officer of the committee. (Why appoint so many vice chairpersons? Because there are few committees while there are so many members of the majority coalition. To preserve the alliance, House majority members are usually appointed to a nominal position in the committees). *Same principle applies to Deputy Speakers.

It is also essential to be friends with the chiefs-of-staff of House leaders. They are often the real decision makers in the offices of legislators. And they can actually represent their principal in committee hearings although this is seldom done.

Oh yes, set up also a dialogue with the speaker. But are you sure he will remember you and your lobbying agenda?

4. The professional and veteran tacticians will probably advice to tap the power of mainstream and corporate-controlled media to generate public support for a particular advocacy. It is a correct and crucial tactic. But there are alternative activities and equally effective approaches on how to impress legislators. For example, hold an exhibit in the south wing or north wing lobby where legislators pass through to enter the plenary hall or their offices. Legislators are most likely to remember something from the visual and thematic appeal of the exhibit. In addition, organize roundtable discussions inside Batasan, ask the committee to co-sponsor the event, and invite legislators to participate in the forum. The legislator will definitely attend if he has a speaking part in the program. So ask him to give a reaction, deliver the opening or concluding remarks, moderate the open forum, and maybe he can host the program so that he will be forced to stay the whole time.

Bombarding the offices with primers, letters, petitions, leaflets, and other printed materials is not a guarantee that legislators will remember a specific issue or problem. To be safe, assume that legislators are not able to read or appreciate your letters, especially the hate letters. There are also legislators who do not micromanage the transactions inside his Batasan office. An effective tactic to get the attention of many legislators is to leave something on his desk in the plenary such as a postcard, a one-page petition, a flower, ribbon, newspaper clipping. It is possible, it is allowed, and it is memorable.

Another persuasive activity is the holding of creative and militant mass actions inside and outside Batasan. Disrupting the session is newsworthy especially if it coincided with a boring session day.

Conduct training activities for the legislative staff since they do all the paperwork and research for legislators. The impact of lobbying, successful or not, is embedded in their draft measures. Half of the lobby work is done if the legislator’s core team is converted to the cause.

5. Lobby work is not and should not be an everyday duty. Therefore, it is important to synchronize the lobby plan with the legislative calendar. Where to find lawmakers? In the plenary sessions, committee hearings, scheduled press forums (regular press forums of minority and the speaker), but rarely in district offices. Set a formal appointment but if this won’t work, conduct a personal interview in the plenary. Will a congressman allow an interview in the plenary? Yes, especially if the interviewer is a constituent. Save a lot of time by checking the Twitter of legislators to confirm their schedule for the day. Ask the security personnel if they saw the legislator inside the Batasan premises.

An accurate political mapping will also guide the lobby work. Identify the third termers especially those with senate ambitions. Study the profile of first termers who can be enthusiastic partners and articulate champions of specific people’s issues. Try to recruit young political dynasts who have no other advocacy aside from their family. Make lobbying more efficient by talking to the point persons of party blocs and informal groupings. For example, the Makabayan’s leading figure is Rep Colmenares. Other political parties also have their respective spokespersons and official representatives. Sometimes it is also worthwhile to speak to self-appointed leaders of small group coalitions such as the neophyte bloc, lady legislators, Mindanao bloc and other regional or provincial alliances. If it is a Monday, some are playing basketball in the gym.

Congressional spouses are organized, they have funds, they are active, and they can be reliable allies and effective lobbyists. They can always offer something that their legislator spouses can’t refuse.

Don’t forget to send SMS to select legislators. They all have cell phones and they read every SMS because it can be from the DBM informing them of fund releases. Even sending hate SMS can be an act of lobbying.

6. There are bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, and concurrent resolutions. Legislation takes time and the tyranny of numbers is controlled by the Palace purse. But there is another legislative measure which has an immediate effect: privilege speech. The speech can be highlighted by the media and it can also instantly generate a reply or action from Executive agencies, LGUs, or private interest groups. Once delivered, the speech becomes part of congressional records. The Palace attack dogs can only interpellate but they can’t block the referral of the speech to an appropriate committee.

Once a measure is filed in the House of Representatives, the next task is to file counterpart measures in the senate. If a bill or resolution is not included in the priority agenda, request friendly LGUs to adopt the measure. Localization of Congress measures is an alternative approach. For example, the Quezon City council has already adopted some proposals of Kabataan partylist such as the Bonifacio Bill, Philippine Games, and the Cinema Appreciation Bill.

Speaking of local bills, maybe it is better to approach the president and ask his team to issue executive orders or administrative orders instead of waiting for Congress to act on these measures.

7. Budget deliberations take place from July to October which force Congress to scale down on some of its legislation-related activities. But it doesn’t mean that lobbying opportunities are diminished. On the contrary, this is the right time to convince legislators to raise policy issues during budget hearings in the pre-plenary and plenary sessions. Legislators can get instant response and commitment from executive officials. More importantly, they can (theoretically) realign funds from one agency to another or they can question the budget priorities of the administration. Some resourceful legislators look forward to the budget sessions to ask for some funds for their districts. Lobbying takes the form of insertions and double insertions at this stage.

8. Stakeholders and constituents are the most credible lobbyists. They should be at the forefront of any lobbying campaign. They can help draft the legislative measure, they can witness the filing of the measure or the delivery of the speech (Make sure the measure is referred to only one committee. Otherwise, oppositors can easily raise the question of quorum during joint hearings), they can serve as expert speakers during committee hearings or on-site hearings, they can join public consultations and media events, and they can give an extra lobby push during plenary proceedings. If quorum is an issue, they can persuade their district or sectoral representatives to represent the absent committee members and the members of the Rules committee.

Unfortunately, lobbyists and citizens are not allowed to witness the secretive bicameral sessions – the third and most powerful chamber of Congress. Some professional lobbyists devote greater attention to the bicameral work since they only need to influence (or bribe) a handful of legislators. The Bicam is simply not transparent and grossly undemocratic.

For symbolic purposes, stakeholders can meet the Speaker in a major public gathering.

9. Lobby aggressively, loudly, responsibly. Lobby because there is an issue or a problem that needs to be addressed. Lobby to seek reforms, to enact new policies and laws. Lobby to implement new programs or to demand greater fund allocation. Lobby to probe abuses, identify policy gaps, resolve a dispute that politicians are unwilling to undertake. Lobby as empowered citizens, Filipinos asserting their democratic rights. But there’s the rub: The future is too precious to be left in the hands of the 300.

3 Responses to “Congress Lobbying”

  1. Nice!

    EMGR

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us 🙂

    Zach Hontiveros Pagkalinawan

  3. very illuminating and allows one to see the intricacies of local lobbying. Useful indeed for my personal advocacies on health, environment, and information transparency.

    widjam

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