Promoting the exercise of rights through the Lobby Accountability Act

Republic Act No. 1827 has nominally regulated the practice of the lobbying profession in the Philippines since 1957. However, the lack of strict implementation of the law over the past six decades shows the need to revamp the law.

The Lobbying Accountability Act (House Bill No. 1959) proposed to amend Republic Act No. 1827 to enhance public confidence in the integrity of legislative and executive lobbying by requiring more stringent public disclosure of direct lobbying activities undertaken before the executive and legislative branches.

The importance of amending the 63-year-old law lies in the need to foster high standards of ethical practice among lobbyists and government relations professionals.

Currently at the technical working group level, the House Committee on Public Participation chaired by Rep. Florida T. Robes, the Lobbying Accountability Act pushes for the registration of lobbyists not only with Congress but with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as well.

A Joint Secretariat for both Houses of Congress and another Secretariat for Executive Departments shall be formed to attend to the registration of lobbyists and the compilation and maintenance of the Register of Lobbyists and the publication of the annual report on lobbying activities.

Through the supervision of these entities, policies and guidelines under the Lobbying Accountability Act would ensure integrity and transparency in transactions between lobbyists and government officials by requiring the disclosure of lobbying activities undertaken on behalf of a principal.

PUBLiCUS Asia, remains to be the first and only SEC-registered lobbying firm in the country. Being the industry leader in the profession of lobbying, PUBLiCUS Asia was invited to provide its comments regarding the proposed bill.

The term lobbyist is broad, hence, PUBLiCUS Asia suggested to explicitly state former public officials, industry chambers, law firms, and similar natural and juridical persons as entities included in the scope of the Act. In practice, these persons are often engaged in direct lobbying activities which should be disclosed under the provisions of the proposed law.

For its part, PUBLiCUS Asia recommended to the panel to recognize lobbying activities as constitutionally protected speech. Lobbying, whether undertaken for profit or not, can be considered a mode of seeking redress from government or airing grievances against it. Therefore, it must be regulated with the same respect and flexibility as other activities through which fundamental constitutional rights are exercised.

In the review of the Lobbying Accountability Act, it is recommended to have a Register of Lobbyists rather than a Register of Lobbying Activities since the Act calls for the registration of lobbyists and not the action per se. Separate reports on the specific actions of these lobbyists are to be submitted to the regulatory body are sufficient enough to cover the activities needed to be disclosed by registered lobbyists.

Originally, the proposed law called for the renewal of licenses at the end of each calendar year. However, it is more fitting to have each license valid for one year from the date of receipt of issue of the lobbyist.

 

It is also strongly recommended that a provision outlining an Anti-Revolving Door Policy be included in the proposed bill. The provision should prevent members of the Congress, the President or Vice President of the Philippines, appointive officials with the rank of Assistant Secretary or higher, Chief Justices or Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and commissioners or chairmen of constitutional commissions from being issued a License to Lobby or engaging in lobbying activities within one year from resignation, expiration of term of office, or removal from said position. This provision is a staple of U.S. lobbying disclosure laws as it guards against regulatory capture and conflicts of interest that often arise when high-ranking public officials immediately transition to the lobbying industry.

 

PUBLiCUS Asia also suggests that instead of having the SEC as the registering body and Secretariat for the Executive Department, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) should be in charge since the duties and functions of the PLLO are more well-suited to implement this Act compared to the SEC.

 

The Lobbying Accountability Act seeks to open the horizon for lobbying in the Philippines and make it accountable to the public which it seeks to serve. As an industry that seeks to influence public policy, it must be a practice that should be regulated judiciously. Lobbying is a constitutionally protected right. Lobbying is advocacy-forwarding as it carries the banner for issues across various sectors. 

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