Open bicam meetings to public, Congress urged

Posted at 10/18/12 11:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives and the Senate should open their bicameral conference committee meetings and hearings to the public, lawmakers said Thursday.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño filed House Bill No. 6651 or the "Bicameral Meeting Transparency Act of 2012" on Thursday in response the controversial "insertions" made in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

"While public committee meetings and hearings are common at the House of Representatives and the Senate, transparency seems to stop at the bicameral conference 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," Palatino and Casiño said in the explanatory note of the bill.

"Due to the secretive nature of the bicam meetings, we have already witnessed how bills that have been deliberated for years in both houses end up either as watered-down versions or, as in the case of the Cybercrime Law, more punitive than what has been agreed upon during plenary deliberations," Palatino said in a statement.

He warned that important pieces of legislation ike the reproductive health bill could be watered-down or revised without the public's knowledge and scrutiny.

"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.

He said HB 6651 sets rules for the conduct of bicameral meetings which will enable "transparency and maximum public participation" in the deliberations.

The bill will require Congress to inform the public of the venue of bicameral meetings and allow them to attend and observe the gatherings. It will also require Congress to release proceedings of the meeting to the public immediately.

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."

"Transparency and accountability are part and parcel of good governance. I urge my fellow lawmakers to support this bill along with the freedom of information bill to ensure that the public is not left in the dark on matters that will greatly affect their welfare," Palatino said.