Some media networks were all agog yesterday over the fact the a number of our neophyte lawmakers joined the back-to-school bandwagon when more than 30 of them trooped to the University of the Philippines to attend a crash course on legislation conducted by the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance. Radio reporters were falling all over themselves trying to put their own spin to the news item. Certain newly elected lawmakers were crowing about how their attendance in the program will make them better legislators. I wished there was a quick way to put some sense into their heads and make them realize that attending a crash course or two won’t really hack it.
I understand the media hoopla. We’re a celebrity-crazy country; thus any sighting of some obscure lawmaker at some obscure event can merit a banner story. Furthermore, it is indeed ironic that our legislators are now talking belatedly about preparing for their jobs as lawmakers after they have won the elections. The rest of the people in this country aren’t as lucky; they go through the normal route which is to prepare for a job so that they get considered for it. Millions of Filipinos, in fact, prepare hard and long to become qualified for certain jobs but don’t get these jobs anyway despite their qualifications or their hard work.
From what I gathered, however, the four-day program which reeled off yesterday was actually just the standard orientation program designed to familiarize newly-elected lawmakers of the goings-on in the House of Representatives although certain macro topics were to be covered including a briefing on the Philippine Development Plan and the Economy and the roles of legislators. An orientation program is standard fare for everyone embarked on a new undertaking – be it a new job, a new organization, a new career, etc. A four-day orientation program is not enough preparation to become a legislator; Philippine Government, after all, is already subject worth a whole semester of discussion in any university.
I will be the last person to belittle the potentials of training programs. A carefully designed and masterfully conducted training program such as an orientation program does offer immense capabilities for learners to acquire new knowledge and skills. However, I would really caution anyone against having great expectations of our neophyte lawmakers suddenly becoming God’s gift to the Filipino people just because they have belatedly enrolled in some crash courses.
I lost track of the number of times I cringed during the last campaign whenever I heard candidates assure people that they will try to learn the ropes of being an elected official by enroling in crash courses after they got elected. No, darn it, not all things can be learned through crash courses. Vilma Santos Recto did go through a number of crash courses at UP when she first won as governor, but there were other factors that contributed to her success as a public official most notably, her having been mentored by husband Senator Ralph Recto and the fact that she had immense political capital on account of her being a very popular movie actress. Of course her willingness to learn and to serve were major plus factors also.
It gets worse when lawmakers take crash courses for the sole purpose of showing them off either as proof of them having acquired the necessary qualification or as compliance of some campaign promise. I don’t know if Jinky Pacquiao and many others did go to UP to enrol in some crash courses as they promised during the campaign but I would really rather that people prepare in advance even before contemplating filing their certificates of candidacy for public office. We should stop this mockery of turning public service into an on-the-job training program for celebrities and the progeny of political dynasties.
And really, neophyte lawmakers should just shut up while they are still learning. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
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I must commend out legislators for finally striking out mandatory drug testing as requirement for renewing or applying for a drivers license in the new Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013. That was a really stupid provision in the old law which only benefited the businessmen who operated those drug testing “clinics.” The truth is that the drug testing was a complete sham – they were not even manned by qualified medical technologists. When I accompanied a relative who applied for his first drivers license last month, his urine sample was not even tested. He was issued a certification after he paid the amount for drug testing. There are many other procedural steps and documentary requirements in our bureaucracy that serve no purpose other than to create paperwork that government clerks would process. If we are truly serious about making things work in this country, it is also time to do away with the many other bureaucratic rigmarole that make dealing with government such a tedious process.