How many years of basic education should a student complete? What punishment will somebody get if he or she steals? How much tax should be imposed on properties? Can a Filipino abroad vote during elections? How fast can a person drive his or her car on a highway?
Have you ever wondered what rules apply to these questions? Or have you ever thought who creates these rules in the first place?
The lawmakers in the Philippine legislature create these rules or laws. In this module, you will learn about the organization of the legislative branch; how policies are created in relation to legal and political dynamics; and the several issues, challenges, and prospects that lawmaking and exercise of legislative powers entail.
You have learned that under the principle of separation of powers, the three branches of government exercise powers independent of each other. The legislative branch creates the laws which the executive implements and which the judiciary interprets. This is known as the legislative power.
Article VI, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution provides that the power to enact laws is vested in the Philippine Congress (comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives), except when this power is reserved to the people through initiative and referendum.
The policies needed to address issues such as pover ty, welfare, economic development, criminality, social justice, human rights, and many others are usually in the form of laws created by a state’s legislature.
The Philippine Congress
Structure and Organization
The country has a bicameral legislature because the Congress is comprised of two chambers. The following summarizes the composition of the Congress, and the qualifications, election, and terms of office of its members, based on the provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
Congress: Composition, Election, and Terms of Office
House of Representatives
250 (unless otherwise fixed by law)
Manner of Election
Elected at large (or nationwide) by qualified voters
By district proportional representation and by party-list system
Term of Office
Maximum Term of Office
two consecutive terms
three consecutive terms
Qualifications of the Members of Congress
House of Representatives
At least 35 years old
At least 25 years old
Registered voter in the district (except in the party-list)
Able to read and write
Able to read and write
Resident of the Philippines for not less than two years
Resident of the district for not less than a year
Article VI of the constitution also provides for privileges of and prohibitions on the members of Congress. Say for instance, its members shall receive a fixed compensation as determined by law (Section 10) and they shall be given privilege from arrest when the Congress is in session, unless the offense they committed is punishable by more than six years of imprisonment (Section 11). The members are required by law to provide full disclosure of their financial and business interests (Section 12). They are also prohibited from holding any other office or employment in the government (Section 13) and restricted from appearing as counsel before any court of justice or electoral tribunal (Section 14).
The constitution also mandates the Congress to convene once every year on the 4th Monday of July for its regular session unless otherwise provided by law, and they shall continue to be in session for such number of days as determined until 30 days before the opening of its next regular session (Section 15). The President, however, may call special sessions to handle emergencies or urgent issues. Each chamber should also have its own set of officers. Section 16 provides that the Senate shall elect its President and the House of Representatives, its Speaker, by a majority of all its respective members. Each house may choose other officers if deemed necessary. The Congress shall also have its Electoral Tribunals, bicameral Commission on Appointments, and standing and ad hoc or special committees.
Powers and Functions of the Congress
The 1987 Constitution sets limits to the Congress’s exercise of power to create laws. For instance, the Congress shall not pass a law that abridges the freedom of speech, expression, and the like (Article III, Sections 4–5, 10, and 22). Similarly, it is provided that the Congress may not increase appropriations recommended by the President (Article VI, Section 25); that the rule of taxation shall be uniform and equitable; and that tax exemptions to charitable institutions (and the like) shall be provided (Article VI, Section 29).
The Congress is also given powers to check on the powers of the president. Among these are:
- Check the president’s power to appropriate money for government use (Article VI, Section 25).
- Provide consent on appointments made by the president (Article VII, Section 16).
- Request heads of executive departments to appear before the Congress (Article VI, Section 22).
- Check the president’s power as commander in chief in the suspension of writ of habeas corpus or declaration of martial law (Article VII, Section 17).
- Concur with president in granting amnesty to individuals (Article VII, Section 19).
The members of the Congress shall be the only judge of all contests related to the election, returns, and qualification of their respective members, through the House and Senate Electoral Tribunals. The Senate shall also have the sole power to decide on all cases of impeachment by two-thirds votes. The Congress may also punish its members for disorderly behavior (Article VI, Section 16).
With respect to international relations, the Congress also exercises functions known as diplomatic powers. The following are good examples:
- Declaration of the existence of a state of war [Article VI, Section 23(1)]
- Granting of emergency powers to the President in times of war or emergency [Article VI, Section 23(2)]
- No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate (Article VII, Section 21). What other powers does the Congress possess? Share them with the class.
The Lawmaking Process and Legislative Performance
How are laws created? What processes did they undergo before they became laws? This section presents the basics on how a bill becomes a law.
The website of the Philippine Congress presents the legislative process. Here is a summary:
- Preparation of the bill
- First reading
- Committee consideration/action
- Second reading
- Third reading
- Transmittal of approved bill to the other house (where procedures 1 to 5 also happen)
- Conference committee (if there are differences or disagreements) 8. Submission of the bill to the president
- Presidential action on the bill
If the president approves the bill, the same is assigned an RA (Republic Act) number and is then transmitted to the House where it originated. Afterward, copies of the bill are reproduced and sent to the office of the Official Gazette for publication and distribution to the implementing agencies. Finally, it will be included in the annual compilation of Acts and Resolutions.
If the bill is vetoed, it is transmitted to the House where it originated together with the message of the president citing the reason for the bill’s disapproval. The Congress may decide to override the veto of the president. If two-thirds of the members in each house vote to override the veto, then the bill becomes a law.
How well does the Philippine Congress perform in relation to passing laws and solving issues and problems the country faces? This section presents the legislation during the administrations of the presidents in the Fifth Republic. It is important to note that executive-legislative relations are important in considering matters pertinent to the socioeconomic and political developments of the country. One of the most important challenges to the legislative performance has something to do with the slow pace of legislation.
The logic is basic: societal problems need to be addressed in the quickest way possible using the most viable strategy or manner. If the Congress does not pass legislations to quickly address issues, then it is not true to its mandate. If the Congress does not pass laws that represent the interests of the people it claims to stand for, then republican democracy has failed. Look at the activity below. Browse through the statistics on legislative performance from the 13th to the present Congress. What does this say about the Philippine Congress?
Issues, Challenges, and Prospects
The Philippines, apart from it being a unitary and presidential system, is also a representative or republican democracy. This means that the people or the electorate choose individuals who will represent their interests in the halls of the government. Whether or not the elected representatives serve as a functional link between the citizens and the government is an important concern. After all, how well the Congress concretizes the interests of the people through laws is a measure of the institution’s ability to be true to its mandate.
Observers note that the Philippine Congress is still dominated by socioeconomic and political elites. This observation suggests whether the country’s democracy is in practice or not, given that the Congress is composed of individuals who seem to come from a specific stratum. While it is true that the 1987 Constitution does not provide for educational, property, and wealth qualifications, political realities point to the idea that elections in the country are expensive and often, only those who have enough financial resources run for public office. Similarly, the Congress’s composition points to another equally important question on representativeness—that there is a wide gap in social class, power, and wealth between the officials and their constituents. This raises questions if the elected officials really are able to represent the interests of the people who do not belong to the same social class as theirs.
It is a reality in the country that the interests of the dominant class prevail and that the Congress is composed of exclusivist political elite. The party-list system is a mechanism through which minorities get the chance to be elected. Laws, in this case, are expected to reflect the interests of the minorities.
As in the executive, the legislature is built around personality-oriented political parties. Rather than being founded on platforms-based stands, the parties that comprise the Congress are non-ideological. This will be elaborated in module 10 of unit 2. The Congress also still suffers from particularistic, family-dominated practices. Observers also note the presence of “Kamag-anak, Inc.” in the Congress, given the existence of political dynasties, if not political families.
Nonetheless, it is important to note as well that the Philippine Congress has served as an arena and actor in the restoration, and later on, consolidation of democracy. While the Congress has managed to create laws that address socioeconomic and political problems of the country, there still remains to be a huge concern about how—at a fast pace—could the government addresses poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, improvement of the quality of education, health services, among many others. This points to another institutional or structural concern. Some believe that the bicameral feature is contributory to the slow pace of lawmaking. Does this then necessitate a change from presidential/bicameral/congressional to parliamentary system? What do you think? Well, this remains to be one of the biggest prospects on the legislature’s future.
You might be wondering what you can possibly do as a student to help improve the Philippine Congress. Your role as a citizen is indispensable and the Constitution no less recognizes that, to wit: “the State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs” (Article II, Section 13). It is the last statement that is relevant to your next activity.