Grassroots Lobbying in the Time of COVID-19

It is about time we upend the traditional paradigm of invitation-only legislative consultations by putting a more inclusive and participative system in place.

 

Public outrage over the alleged railroading of House Bill No. 6875 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 through the Lower Chamber on third and final reading last week sparked a type of campaign that is uncommon in Philippine democracy—an aggressive organic movement of regular citizens emailing, messaging, or calling their representatives to change their affirmative votes on the controversial legislation. As a result, at least 15 of the 168 Yes votes cast by representatives on third reading have been modified to No or Abstain after just a few days.

The concept of ‘direct lobbying’ is often associated with paid lobbying firms representing the interests of large industries or business groups. The definition of direct lobbying, however, is broad enough to include all forms of communication employed by any person, whether for profit or not, which aim to directly influence the decision of a legislator or executive official on any official matter. The netizens who contacted their representatives in order to sway them on the Anti-Terror Bill were also engaging in direct grassroots lobbying—just like stakeholder groups who are invited to participate in committee hearings on proposed legislation.

 

Although the campaign to rescind approval of the measure fell a couple of votes shy before the enrolled bill was sent to the President’s desk for signature, this episode highlights the untapped potential of grassroots lobbying to influence legislative and even executive policymaking. 

 

Interestingly enough, another bill approved by the House of Representatives on the same day as the Anti-Terror Bill (with much less fanfare) would formally integrate the concept of grassroots lobbying into the Philippine legislative process if passed into law. House Bill No. 6599, otherwise known as the Crowdsourcing in Legislative Policymaking Act, aims to create a digital crowdsourcing format to solicit the input of ordinary citizens on proposed legislation and even executive rules and regulations.

 

Netizens would be given three windows to provide comments on the bill as it moves through the legislative process. After the bill is formally filed and posted online, people would be given 15 working days to submit comments on the bill through a digital platform. Once the bill is approved at the committee level and reported out for plenary debates, an additional three days will be given to comment on the committee report. Finally, once a measure is approved on third reading in either chamber of Congress netizens will be given a last three-day window to provide input on the bill online before the bicameral conference committee is convened to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the legislation.

 

HB 6599 was authored by 14 representatives including the Chair of the House Committee on People Participation, Representative Florida “Rida” P. Robles of San Jose Del Monte City.

The approval of the Crowdsourcing in Legislative Policymaking Act may have come at the perfect time for its acceptance by legislative and executive decision-makers. The Senate and House of Representatives have both made significant technology-based changes to the internal processes of their respective institutions in light of the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. It stands to reason that government officials would now be more open to implementing technology-driven innovations like legislative-policymaking crowdsourcing.

 

Incidentally, I attended the hearing of the House Committee on People Participation on behalf of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc., the first and only SEC-registered Philippine lobbying firm in the Philippines, to express our strong support for the passage of the Crowdsourcing Act. The idea of empowering Filipinos from all walks of life to participate in the immensely important process of writing the laws that govern our society is a powerful one, to say the least. It is about time we upend the traditional paradigm of invitation-only legislative consultations by putting a more inclusive and participative system in place.

 

I am also hoping that this legislation will establish a more constructive platform for politically-minded netizens, whose primary outlet for virtual political expression at the moment is engaging in social media flame wars.

 

 

For more information on the concept of legislative crowdsourcing, you might want to check out the explainer prepared by The Lobbyist on the original version of the bill.

 

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About the Author
Aureli, who currently serves as Executive Director of PUBLiCUS, is a senior political adviser and communications strategist specialising in legislative and executive public relations and brand management.
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