How to change the Law in the Philippines

Atty. Rami Hourani

This isn’t an article about changing/fixing the way the Philippine democratic systems operate. This also isn’t a discussion of the methods of amending the laws through the legislative process. This is a short article about how to change the law in the Philippines from the perspective of an ordinary citizen.

Have a complete idea

One of the basic things that I struggle with when trying to advocate on behalf of positive change in the Philippines is that people are not able to articulate how the system is doing wrong to them. Overwhelmingly, the impression I get from most people who take issue with the way that our laws are arranged is that they make general statements like “business should be easier” or that “we should impose stiffer penalties on corruption”. The problem with these ideas though is that they don’t take into consideration how terribly complex the legal frameworks in our system are. Let me give you an example.

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I’ll illustrate this point with an exercise I undertook with a class I teach. The class was statutory construction which teaches students how to read and understand the law. I would often ask them, in order to try and expand their ideas of how the law functions, what laws they would like to change? There were multiple answers which said that we should pass a law prohibiting dynasties. There are a few problems with the passage of such a law: First, who decides when someone is in a political dynasty? Second, who enforces the law? Third, will prohibiting political dynasties make more people who are capable of leading? Fourth, will it result in more convoluted schemes for the circumvention of the prohibition making entry into power by a new entrant to the political arena even more difficult?

Every idea for a law interacts with a constellation of variables, whether those be other laws or practical limitations, which need to be taken into consideration for your idea to have a chance. You need to marry an understanding of the law with a deep understanding of the status quo in order to be able to intelligently move the gears of policy. You might even realize that changing the law is not required and that a small amendment to regulation is all you need to achieve your goals.

Build a Consensus

It’s important to understand that a person acting alone cannot affect policy. The system is structured in such a way that it is impossible for one person to consolidate power to himself. This is why a change to the way that society is arranged must be coursed through civil societies. These are your chambers of commerce, your industry associations, and concerned citizen groups. You need to get the “buy-in” of many people to make the idea work otherwise you set yourself up to be on the fringes and will be doomed to fail. This might mean that you are not the central actor in the initiative that you advocated for first. This might mean giving up the idea to politicians or persons who require a “win” for their constituents in order to retain their positions. It could also mean seeing your initial advocacy change in important ways to accommodate the needs of those directly affected by your proposed measure. Compromise is the nature of the beast that you need to deal with if you want to see the law change. If your idea is any good chances are there will already be a community of people who think similar to you and your job is considerably abbreviated by connecting and interfacing with these people instead of trying to build momentum from scratch.

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Lobby, Lobby, Lobby

Persistence is key in any endeavor. However, there are ways to improve your chances of reaching someone whose say matters. Did you talk to the Department of the government concerned? Are you addressing communications to the proper committee in the House of Representatives and/or Congress? Are you available to attend hearings on the matter? These are all small things that are indispensable for a measure to be passed. The government will not pass measures if it runs counter to the stance of a given department. If you aren’t talking to the right committees the measures wont even make it to the plenary session. If you don’t speak to the congress people in hearings, subjecting yourself to difficult questions on your proposed policy, they will assume your idea is no good and they can’t afford to take a chance on you.

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Atty. Hourani practices law in Cebu City, PhilippinesIf you would like to set an appointment with him, you may reach him here.

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