COMMENTARY: Wanted: Problem Solvers

MELBOURNE (MindaNews/06 March) — One of my initial assignments as a legal researcher of a distinguished senator from Mindanao eons ago was to scour the 1987 Constitution for provisions bearing the phrase, “as may be provided by law.”

Obviously, the very starting point of a proper legislative agenda should be the Constitution itself. Needless to say, many of the directives planted by the drafters for Congress to fulfil have already become law.

For example, the Sangguinang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015  authored primarily by Senator Bam Aquino implements the mandate in Section 13 of Article II of the Constitution that the state must recognize the vital role of the youth in nation-building.

However, the Constitution is still filled with legislative challenges for Congressional aspirants. Take Section 17 of Article II which provides: “The State shall give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development.”

First question here is which Congress will finally ensure that education is the top priority in the budget? Correspondingly, how will legislators make certain that the Philippines keep pace with the world in terms of science and technology? More importantly, how can lawmakers create a social framework that allows art and all of its derivatives to foster patriotism as well as facilitate total human liberation for every Filipino?

Voters should realize that the primordial duty of the legislative branch of government is to enact laws which address contingencies compromising the overall health and well-being of the Philippine population. Indeed, we must set aside the image of senators and congressmen grilling witnesses during congressional hearings because they are not mere investigators nor prosecutors.

Their job is to identify a national need and thereafter pass legislation specifically designed to meet this need. Their task is to focus on a national flaw and thereafter enact the appropriate law to remedy this flaw. Accordingly, legislators must be, first and foremost, reliable problem solvers.

Therefore, we should be asking ourselves, will a candidate like Manny Pacquiao be able to meet this requirement? Will congressional candidates who have absolutely no background in law or policy-making have the capacity to succeed in legislative work?

I am not suggesting here that we only vote for lawyers and those from the ranks of professionals. I have been around practitioners of the Sweet Science to know that even boxers possess the acumen for problem-solving. After all, their very survival in the ring depends on their ability to out-think their opponents.

Unfortunately, the ill-advised foray of our Pambansang Kamao into the field of biblical scholarship has proven that some pugilists, such as Pacman himself, fall squarely within the exception rather than the rule.

But this truism goes for all professions. Even lawyers can be weak and terrible problem-solvers. Indeed, this is precisely the reason why voters cannot take Congressional elections for granted.

In the news recently was the suicide of a 45-year old construction worker from Echague, Isabela. He took his own life because he could not pay his hospital bill of Php180K.

The fate of this man is not exactly unique. Indeed, it is a sad story we have heard before and will continue to hear because the horrible reality is delivery of health services by government is utterly substandard.

It is absolutely tragic that patient care in public health institutions is highly contingent on the good graces of mayors, governors, congressmen and senators. So every time you see the emblazoned names and faces of politicos in ambulances, spare a thought for our kabayan from Isabela and those like him.

The Philippine population now stands at a little over 100 million. Therefore, it is only natural for the electorate to expect candidates in the coming election to put a premium on health care reform. And I suppose it is also logical to count on the five Presidentiables to carry this advocacy with passion and urgency.

However, while we can implore the Chief Executive to champion the cause for massive health reform in the Philippines, the task of creating the comprehensive health care framework itself ultimately belongs to the legislature. Meaning, this is a job for our senators and congressmen.

Hence, it is good to bear in mind at this stage in the campaign period that we should also be seeking a clear and viable legislative agenda from senatorial and congressional aspirants. Indeed, we also need to hear from these particular candidates a firm and unequivocal commitment to pursue the necessary reforms once elected to Congress.

I am thus constrained to ask again, will the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Isko Moreno, Mark Lapid, Alma Moreno, and Tito Sotto be able to fulfill this mandate? Will congressional candidates of their caliber have the wherewithal to devise game-changing solutions to our ever burgeoning list of national problems?

As responsible voters, I believe we have to recognize the grave fact that for many of our compatriots the answers to these questions have become literally a matter of life or death. Hence, we owe it to them to be more discerning and discriminating when filling out our ballot. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Micael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer and a legislative consultant. He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)