Incumbent and former Members of the House of Representatives shared valuabld lessons with neophyte district and party-list lawmakers to give them a better understanding and appreciation of the budget process, Constitutional provisions, and the important role of the House Secretariat.

Former Davao City Representative and now Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, former Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo and comebacking Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II imparted important lessons to the new lawmakers during the House of Representatives Executive Course on Legislation.

Nograles, a former chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, tackled the Constitutional role of the House of Representatives and the actual budget process.

“Make friends with everyone.”

In his opening statement, the Palace official encouraged the third and last batch of new lawmakers taking up the legislative course to “make friends with everyone.”

“Rest assured, mayroon po kayong kaibigan sa Malacañang, ang pangalan niya si Karlo Nograles. So, if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to call me in the same manner na pag may pangangailangan din ang Malacañang, lalapit po ako sa inyo for the legislative agenda of the President,” he said.

Nograles stressed that House members play a major role in government because of their Constitutional duty to pass the General Appropriations Act or national budget each year. “The House of Representatives gets the first touch,” he said.

“Everybody has to go through a budget process.”

Nograles emphasized passing the budget involves a very complicated process and that the budget is a law.

“And when I say complicated, I mean (it is) thick. So, you will see very thick volumes of the budget book. Obviously, this is what we share with all the parliaments across the world. Everybody has to go through a budget process and it (budget process) also defines the most concrete terms and direction of national policy. In other words, the budget puts government’s money where its mouth is,” he said.

Nograles pointed out legislators are the only ones who can appropriate public funds and can detail where these should be spent. “Kayo ang mag-dedetalye kung saan pupunta ang pera ng taumbayan,” he said.

Moreover, the budget is more than just numbers and item projects as its release should strictly comply with the conditions imposed.

“Because it is a law, it has to have sentences and words and these are called the general and special provisions of the budget. Kung wala ang general at special provisions sa budget, the budget will not operate. They’re just numbers, figures and lists of projects,” he said

After the President submits the National Expenditure Program to Congress, the chamber is duty-bound to formulate the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), Nograles said.

Meanwhile, Quimbo, a former Deputy Speaker, lauded the House Secretariat, saying “Congress does not run by the Speaker, it is really ran by the Secretariat.”

Quimbo said the big difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate is that the committee secretaries in the Senate are absolutely powerless.

“I say it not to diminish or to say negative things about them, but clearly, it is the chairman of the committee who in fact, can decide not to call any meeting at all. That is happening in the Senate. Isang buong term, three years even six years hindi nagpatawag ng committee hearing at all because the chairman is the most powerful,” the former legislator said.

But at the House of Representatives, the former lawmaker said it is the committee secretaries and directors of the different bureaus who are powerful.

“But I don’t mince words, pag ang comsec o ang secretariat staff ay galit sa inyo, kahit gaano kaganda ang bill ninyo, kahit umiyak kayo ng dugo, gagawan nila ng paraan ‘yan para hindi pumasa. So be kind to our Secretariat staff,” he said.

Quimbo stressed committee work is the heart and soul of Congress. He said the four most important standing committees are rules, appropriations, ways and means, and accounts.

By tradition, he said all of the standing committees are mostly the “Speaker’s choice.” He said there is also an adhoc committee created by the Speaker or the committee itself to handle a particular issue.

“And the last one that you cannot find in the rules but is very, very important because the members of this committee are never known to the public. They are called the oversight committees. These are committees held tightly by the Speaker,” Quimbo added.

He also reminded the new legislators not to skip plenary sessions especially during the first two months because these are when the majority leader reveals the composition of the different committees — their chairmen, vice chairmen and members.

“Here in the House, we are all equal. Kung matagal ka naging gobernador o city mayor, pagdating dito (House) pare-pareho tayo. Sabi ko nga, Congress is a learning experience for many of us. So you better worth your while. Get out of your shell and make your voices be heard,” said Quimbo.

Gonzales, a former Majority Leader, tackled how national and local bills can benefit the lawmakers’ constituents.

“The Chair hears none, same is approved. Kung 50 yung binasa mong numero, 50 sabay-sabay approved yun on second reading. Those are local bills na talagang seryoso tayo to establish — a day care or school in our respective district,” said the veteran lawmaker. He also briefed the new legislators on how the bills can now be approved in one sweeping motion.

The seasoned legislator said during the 16th Congress, they introduced an innovation which was adopted by the 17th Congress, wherein there is a first round on the nominal voting for the approval on third reading of any bill.

He reminded the new legislators to equip themselves with the existing House rules.

“But there are other matters that I like to share with you that are unwritten pero napaka-importante. Number one, how to deal with the Secretariat. They are our co-workers. Marami sa kanila kahit maka-three terms ka nandito pa rin sila. Noong Majority Leader ako, alam nila Boss nila ako. Pero hindi ko pinaparamdam sa kanila kundi I treated them as friends. Pangalawa, yung importance ng pakikisama. Don’t allow yourself to be an asshole. And never, as in never ‘wag kang magpapasikat at the expense of your colleague at never kang magpapasikat at the expense of the House as an institution,” Gonzales said.


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