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Inspirational Message delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the 5th Polytechnic University of the Philippines Model Congress on 01 July 2023

Good morning to one and all!

It is my pleasure to congratulate the organizers and participants of the 2023 Polytechnic University of the Philippines Model Congress, a legislative simulation you have been undertaking for five years.

A Model Congress is an innovative and interactive way of learning new skills and a great opportunity for students to learn about the legislative process and the importance of enacting laws through roleplaying and simulation. This activity allows students to have a better understanding of the legislative process and how a legislature functions EVEN AS IT IS ALSO an opportunity for students to have a deeper appreciation of the various facets of public administration, good governance, and PARTICIPATIVE democracy.

PUP’s fifth Model Congress is premised on the theme “Ignite, Innovate, Inspire: Unleashing Young Leaders’ Potential Through an Empowered Legislative Agenda”. This gives students a chance to simulate what goes on in the Congress’ plenary hall, debate on issues, hone their communication skills, practice problem solving, and try their hand at drafting bills that they believe will improve lives, strengthen our democracy, and ensure sustainable human development .

Ignite, Innovate, Inspire

The words “ignite”, “innovate”, and “inspire” are catchwords that must guide you in your journey to becoming our nation’s future leaders.

Being a leader is a difficult and demanding tasks but often rewarding. You must be IGNITED to be of real service and have the fire in you to be honest and principled public servants. You must be INNOVATIVE, which means being inventive and original in finding new solutions to problems that plague the Philippines. You must INSPIRE others, motivate fellow citizens to participate in creating a nation where everyone reaps the benefits of progress and everyone, regardless of gender, age, background or social status, have the same opportunities for personal and societal growth and economic advancement.

The Model Congress and Experiential Learning

I am sure you still remember the time when you were children and you played “cops and robbers” or you pretended to be doctors, teachers, fire fighters or even superheroes. 

In this Model Congress, you are basically doing the same thing – you are learning by experience, you are learning by performing even as you develop critical thinking skills and improve your creativity and resourcefulness.

Legislatures are Man-Made Institutions

But even as you gain knowledge and skills through your experiences in this legislative simulation, I urge you to realize that there is no actual model legislative assembly or a perfect and flawless Congress, as there is no Utopia. Since legislatures are man-made institutions, they suffer the blemishes of human frailties and ambition.

I am embarrassed oftentimes to note that the current 19th Congress is the anti-thesis of a Model Legislature as the superiority of numbers is the rule of the day and the silence of the graveyard haunts the proceedings.

I tell you this not to dampen your spirits or disillusion you. Rather than disenchant you, these realities must prepare you for the pitfalls and roadblocks that you will most certainly face should you decide to enter government service or join the political arena. Being realistic and idealistic at the same time is not mutually exclusive.

We are all human and we all make mistakes. However, ennobling conduct is to be able to pull yourselves up if you stumble, stay true to your advocacies, build on your hard-won victories, and fight the good fight.

There may be no model or picture-perfect Congress but we must always strive to have a version of a legislature that we deserve – one that is as close to being as ideal as possible and truly responsive to the needs of the people. WE CAN ONLY ATTAIN THIS IF WE HAVE INDEPENDENT MINDED VOTERS AND STRONG AND STAUNCH POLITICAL PARTIES.

No Credible Congress Without Independent Voters and Strong Political Parties

Remember that the quality and credibility of a Congress reflects the maturity and independence of the electorate and the strength of political parties. As our future leaders, you must be central to the efforts to improve voter education so we can develop an electorate that is discerning and rational in vetting political contenders; an electorate that votes based on the capabilities of candidates and their platforms of government, instead of electing those who can sing or dance but cannot lead and legislate.

The right of suffrage or the right to participate in a nation’s political affairs by voting into office genuine representatives of the people during honest and periodic elections is a right you must never forfeit.

When you vote, you are effectively telling politicians and legislators which laws and policies are important to you, which political party you trust to make decisions on your behalf, and which politician you put your faith on to help improve your life, better your community, and advance the interests of the country.

This is how important and sacred your vote is because your future is on the line. The right of suffrage is your right to participate in nation-building. We should all be able to participate in society and have a voice in the formulation of national laws and policies that will impact on our lives and the lives of future generations.

Free and honest elections form the backbone of our democracy and are the bases for an active and dynamic civil society. Democratic governance is directly linked to fair and regular elections.

The recent Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional the latest law re-setting again the Barangay and SK elections sustains my position and a few other legislators of kindred-spirits that the postponement violates the constitutional right of suffrage, among other constitutional infirmities, as it deprived the electorate to exercise suffrage at determinable  regular intervals.

But elections are only as robust, vibrant, and truly representative as the strength, independence, and integrity of political parties.

Unfortunately, political parties collapse and are decimated as politicians jump ship to the party of whoever is elected President. This phenomenon of dishonorable desertion undermines and emasculates political parties. It disheartens and dismays supporters of the party and discourages other citizens from enlisting as members of political parties.

Virtual Wishlist for a Model Legislature

 But we can approximate a model legislature by prescribing the defining standards which can be a virtual wish list.

A model Congress or legislature must be genuinely independent and autonomous from the President. Legislatures are deliberative assemblies which means that the body as a whole discusses, debates, and deliberates on bills and issues. Railroading of bills must not happen and all sides must be heard. Railroading is not legislation. It is inordinate fast-tracking of measures by sheer superiority of numbers.

Legislators must be true representatives of the people they are mandated to serve and perforce must represent their views and beliefs. However, a legislator is also elected to be a leader and the word “leader” comes from the Old English “laedan” meaning “to go before as a guide”. This means that he must also guide his constituents in contentious matters; enlighten their minds; and deter them from knee-jerk reactions, bandwagon mentality and uninformed views on vital issues.

Components of a Legislative Assembly Explained

The components of a legislative assembly are the following:

  1. Majority or majority coalition;

  2. Minority, either institutional, which is admirable or conscripted, which is condemnable;

  3. Ambivalent fence sitters; and

  4. Independent opposition not formally belonging to the minority.

The majority is important because it puts into fruition the administration's priority policy agenda. But the majority must be a forthright ally, not a subservient rubberstamp of the government of the day.

The renowned French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville said that “THE MAJORITY NOT ONLY MAKES THE LAWS, BUT CAN BREAK THEM AS WELL.” It is for this reason that the an authentic and credible minority must exist and flourish.

The avowed mission and indispensable role of a responsible and independent opposition or minority principally encompass the following:

  1. The constant critic of flawed administration policies and a serious sentinel against the majority’s importuning.

  2. The zealous guardian of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

  3. A sounding board of the people’s dissent, desolation and discontent.

  4. A vettor of administration policy initiatives and a purger of infirmities overtly or covertly afflicting some of the majority’s legislative proposals.

  5. A conscientious and consensus-seeking partner of the majority in the enactment of laws which are concretely designed for national development and those truly beneficial to the people, particularly the marginalized and disadvantaged.

  6. A crusading advocate of alternative policies and programs which are more responsible and responsive than the agenda of the majority.

  7. A party or coalition which fields competent and credible aspirants against the candidates of the administration in regular elections for the installation or rejection of transient leaders.

Verily, democracy cannot thrive without a viable and vibrant opposition. Holding the ruling party accountable to the public should be the prime focus of the opposition.

Model Congress and Civic Engagement

A Model Congress is the perfect extracurricular activity for aspiring public servants as it promotes civic engagement and enhances public-spiritedness to actively take part in nation-building. It also promotes the indispensable role of civil society in good governance.

Because of the PUP Model Congress, students have been rewarded with a practical and proactive experience on parliamentary procedure, the importance of debate and negotiation in lawmaking, and learning about society’s complex and multifaceted issues.

I was invited today to give an inspirational message. But the inspiration needed to fulfill every Filipino’s dream of a better life, more employment opportunities, better healthcare and tangible improvements in the education sector, safe communities, and more prospects for social mobility and financial stability MUST EMANATE FROM BOTH ME AND YOU.

It is clear to me that given the success of this year’s Model Congress, you understand the importance of laws that benefit all Filipinos and uplift their lives and the need to be more active members of your respective communities, more vocal critics of government’s faults and failings, and more dedicated advocates of good governance and accountability of those in power.

It does not matter if you subsequently become a legislator or embrace another profession, you can make your mark and be heard if you do your work with passion and industry, hold on to your principles, and always prioritize personal integrity and good intentions as you relate with others.

I ask you not to lose your idealism and steadfastness, your principles, and activism. Remember to stand up for what is right and just even if you stand alone. Be proactive in defending the truth no matter how hard it may be because this will demonstrate your fidelity to justice and your commitment to building a better world for all Filipinos.

Thank you and more power to all your endeavors to be upright citizens and genuine leaders.