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The detailed work of legislation

June 08, 2019

The idea behind House Bill (HB) 9065, or the “Teacher Protection Act” that the lower chamber passed unanimously on its last session day on Tuesday, is a very good one, and acknowledges a shortcoming in existing laws and regulations. But its lack of clarity seems to follow a pattern of vagueness in the crafting of bills by many legislators.

HB 9065 seeks to protect teachers from accusations of child abuse in disciplining their students. The measure would establish guidelines for disciplinary actions, and so long as teachers act within those guidelines they would be exempt from any liability under Republic Act (RA) 7610, or the “Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.”

The proposed law also mandates that there will be at least one guidance counselor for every 200 students in public elementary and high schools.

Unfortunately, that is as far as the bill goes in providing details about how its directives are to be met and managed. The bill simply directs the Department of Education to develop the disciplinary guidelines with inputs from students, parents, teachers, other school personnel, community organizations and child behavioral experts.

Vague aspirations

Most bills filed by congressmen and senators are brief — perhaps three or four printed pages in length — and only express aspirations for the issue at hand. The real work begins only when the bill is passed, when the relevant agencies create the implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

This arrangement has led to a common problem of delay in implementation. A good example of this is the Ease of Doing Business Act (RA 11032), which was signed into law in May 2018 but still lacks a complete IRR.

And because most laws allow a great deal of latitude to the agencies tasked to develop the IRR, the rules and procedures created could even contradict the law’s intent. Likewise, key stakeholders or points of view may be excluded from the discussions about the IRR.

Interest groups

HB 9065 specifies that students, parents, teachers, administrators and community organizations participate in the creation of the IRR, but there is no guidance to ensure that whichever individuals represent these various groups fairly represent the wide variety of social, cultural and religious differences found among them.

What happens, in essence, is that the real work of legislation is not being carried out by legislators elected by the people for that purpose, but by small groups of bureaucrats and representatives of special interests.

With a new set of legislators set to take office, it is a perfect opportunity for them to break out of that bad habit of making vague and incomplete laws. Lawmakers should live up to the description, and craft laws that fully take into account their practical objectives, terms of reference, responsibility for enforcement, funding, and other requirements necessary to turn good intentions into action. Far fewer laws would actually be passed, but when it comes to the business of the people, quality should always take precedence over quantity.

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