(Video recorded speech of REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN during the Bicol University Extension Management Division Zoom Teleconference on “Legislative Leadership Legacy for Peace and Development” on 20 March 2021)
Greetings to one and all:
In 2015, Member States of the United Nations undertook to achieve 17 integrated Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are a universal call to action to put an end to poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and progress by 2030.
The UN document, “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, unequivocally declares that: “We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”
Peace and development are more achievable in a democratic framework. As local legislators, you are key players in ensuring an enabling democratic environment for progressive and pro-people legislation which must inevitably contribute to the realization of genuine peace and sustainable human development.
Progressive and pro-people legislative agenda
Legislators, both national and local policymakers, must be armed with a progressive and pro-people legislative agenda to serve as a definitive guide and practical blueprint in proposing and enacting laws and policies that are truly rights-based, people-centered, and development-driven.
Local legislators like yourselves are more attuned to the peculiar, authentic, and valid needs of your constituents in the municipal, city or provincial levels. Therefore, you can more easily create laws that will answer the unique and specific needs and problems of your constituents. A progressive and pro-people legislative agenda will also help foreclose any attempts to enact laws that run counter to the principles of enduring peace and sustainable human development.
Many of you may wonder which should come first, peace or development? Initially, this question may appear to be a “chicken and egg paradox” that presupposes that either peace or development must necessarily come first before the other can be achieved.
This assumes a causal effect: that, on the one hand, peace can only be achieved if there is already progress and development in place or that on the other, it is precisely the existence of peace that will usher in development and not the other way around.
I maintain that instead of considering a causal relationship between peace and development, we must look at these two goals as closely intertwined and efforts to achieve them must be simultaneous and synchronized. This means that one goal cannot be realized if we do not also concurrently address the other because in reality, peace and development are two sides of the same coin. They are partners of equal importance, and must necessarily co-exist and prevail together.
Prioritization of laws for peace and development
Verily, laws that promote lasting peace and secure sustainable development must be given priority and preferential treatment. I cannot overemphasize the responsibility of local legislators in attaining the much-desired goal of peaceful and progressive communities. There can be no sustainable development and lasting peace without a sincere and solid social contract between local elected leaders like yourselves and local communities. It is at the local level where two-way communication and engagement between a public servant and ordinary citizens at the grassroots level has the most potential for change. You must always remember that the pulse of the people – their desires and needs –must be at your fingertips.
Therefore, for local legislation, special concerns must be addressed and policies must be truly responsive to the nuances - unique requirements and extraordinary conditions - of your particular constituencies.
Consequently, local ordinances must be crafted with the participation of civil society groups and other stakeholders. It is your responsibility as local legislators to create this enabling environment that empowers ordinary people to participate in the creation of laws that will have a direct impact on their lives, even as consensus and participatory democracy is achieved. The input and suggestions of the very people who are supposed to benefit from a law or ordinance are imperative and indispensable to policymaking, particularly in the local level.
Participation of opposition and minority groups
It must also be underscored that for there to be a truly enabling and democratic environment conducive to the legislation of progressive and pro-people laws, there must always be enough room for the participation of opposition and minority groups.
Local governance becomes more effective and truly responsive if the majority takes the time to intently listen to the voices of the minority which, oftentimes, can be drowned out by the vociferous imposition of the dominant group. It does not necessarily follow that the group with the superiority of numbers automatically has the superiority of reason. The majority does not have the sole franchise on legislative skills and good intentions.
Assuring extensive free debates
A legislature is a deliberative body and therefore open discussions and honest dialog must be its driving force. Extensive and free debates must always be assured. Moreover, robust and vibrant public debates, coupled with consultations with civil society groups, are fundamental to a true democracy. Indeed, debate and discussion, as vital components of freedom of expression and dissent, form the bedrock of a democratic parliament or legislative assembly.
To further emphasize its importance, we only have to look at the opposite of free debate. The absence of free and honest debate will eventually lead to tyranny and authoritarianism which brooks no criticism, stamps out dissent, harasses critics, and locks up opponents. The result is a government that lacks accountability, acts with impunity, and creates a system that breeds corruption and more easily resorts to persecution and violence.
The presence of a vibrant, strong, and free civil society is never something to be feared. Rather, it should be an ideal that should be encouraged because it is crucial to peace and sustainable development.
Accommodation of perfecting amendments
The legislative mill exists for a reason. A piece of proposed legislation goes through the rather lengthy legislative process because the system is designed to democratize lawmaking and intended to ensure that the final version of the bill is not only refined and improved by necessary perfecting amendments but also truly responsive to the needs of its intended beneficiaries.
Amendments should not be considered an affront or an insult to the proponent of the bill. They are there to modify and improve a bill and make it more clear-cut. Amendments, if they enhance and enrich a legislative proposal, should be accommodated.
An enabling democratic environment assures good governance
An enabling democratic environment in local legislation where there is genuine consultation and accountability of public officers empowers both legislators and ordinary citizens. It is vital to nation-building, crucial to achieving peace and development, and assures good governance.
We should idealize and strive for governance that is participatory –meaning that ordinary citizens must be consulted, the views of the minority taken into account and the voices of the most vulnerable in society be heard in decision-making; accountable –meaning leaders must be prepared to accept responsibility for their actions and take criticism seriously; consensus-oriented –meaning leaders must try to reconcile differing interests to meet a broad consensus that is in the best interest of the community; transparent –meaning relevant information must always be accessible to the public; and truly responsive –meaning leaders must not only be approachable, hands-on, and pro-active, they must respond meaningfully to the needs of constituents and concerns of stakeholders within a reasonable time frame.
An environment that enables responsible and responsive policymaking and good governance ensures that local programs and policies reflect the needs and preferences of local communities. It facilitates public participation, improves service delivery, strengthens communities, and optimizes overall development outcomes.
A legislator’s true legacy
Ordinances passed by a local Sanggunian, much like the statutes enacted by the Congress, must be non-discriminatory, rational, equitable, and just. A municipal, city or provincial board must be held to the same exacting standards as the national legislature.
Legislators do not work to leave a legacy. Legacy is the incidental, albeit just, reward for outstanding performance. You must at all times legislate for the common good and general welfare of all citizens. Your legacy depends on the judgment of history.
Verily, those who stand up for progressive values; defend our democratic way of life and the rule of law; and strive to ensure genuine peace and sustainable human development will always be on the right side of history.
Thank you for this opportunity to address all of you. Dios mabalos saindo gabos!