Huwebes, Setyembre 19, 2013

Paperless Session: The Legislature Practice in the Province of Agusan del Sur Sangguniang Panlalawigan


SANDRO J. REBADIO

In the website of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Agusan del Sur, the Incumbent Provincial Vice Governor Santiago B. Cane Jr., recount his efforts and  stories on the success of his “Paperless Session” in Agusan del Sur Sangguniang Panlalawigan.Cane  was regarded as the most  well verse  and  knowledgeable  in term of  legislation. As a matter of fact,he was most invited resource person to speak about parliamentary procedures and other related topic on governance to different schools and agencies in the province. Aside from that,he was seasoned with his passion  as reservist  to trained and lead the  youth for citizenship and patriotism  in the Reserve Officer Training Corp(ROTC)  in one of the state university in the province which recently he was  awarded as  an Outstanding  Reservist 2012.

The Province of Agusan del Sur
 The Province of Agusan del Sur is comprised of 13 municipalities and 1 component city established in June 17, 1967 with a total land area of 8966 km², the 3rd largest in the country. The original inhabitants of Agusan Province were the forefathers of the Present-Day Mamanuas who were driven away to the remote areas because of the intrusion of Malay immigrants coming from early Borneo, Celebes and Malaysia.

The discovery of a Golden Tara, an eight-inch tall image of a woman in pure gold at Maasin, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur  in the early 1920's and a Molten Jar unearthed at Bahbah, Prosperidad in the early 1960's, marks the Agusan's Pre-Hispanic Cultural History which was greatly influenced by the Madjapahit Empire of India. The icon, a 21-karat gold figurine, is presently kept at the Gem Room of the Chicago Field Museum of National History, Chicago, USA. This Buddhist image, of the Sailendra Period during the Sri-Vijaya History (900-950 AD), is the earliest known image of Indian origin, depicting early Hindu-Philippine relations.

Through the years, the province has become a melting pot of peace-loving people, from various regions in the country, all lured into this Land of Golden Opportunities. The predominant inhabitants are Cebuano speaking, with Roman Catholicism as the main religion.

 The province in the present administration is recipient of the CY 2011 Seal of Good Housekeeping by the DILG, and the 2012 Best eGov Custumer Empowerment Awards with entry on eProcurement System of the province .Corollary, the province is no longer included in the list of the top 16 poorest provinces in the country as Per latest reports of National Statistical Coordination Board (2013).

Embracing electronic platform out from tradition
Traditionally, a legislative session was held purposely to agreed and discussed agenda which is raised and proposed by members for deliberations and remarks. It is very vital for any legislator to present agendum which is systematically written to market to his fellow legislator. Indeed, session needs to reproduce draft proposals and ordinances to be distributed to the legislative members for further study and scrutiny before the sessions. This traditional system required much resources, time and manpower for preparation and operation. Thus, paperless session was been an answer to this predicament.

The Paperless Session in Agusan del Sur started as a simple concept when then Provincial Board Member Santiago B. Cane, Jr., now the Incumbent Provincial Vice Governor, was elected Secretary-General of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines (PBMLP) in 2005.

According to Cane, attending meetings of the National Executive Officers and the National Board with a sizeable number of documents packed into several bags made every trip difficult and tiresome. Moreover, every member in attendance had to be provided these materials which meant the documents had to be reproduced - an expensive and tedious task.
At first, the PBMLP Officers questioned the concept's reliability and feasibility. However, it slowly gained the Board's trust, and later, to full acceptance.  The successful paperless meetings of the PBMLP inspired Cane to introduce and develop the concept of paperless sessions in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Agusan del Sur. As Provincial Vice Governor-elect in 2007, Cane discussed it with Governor-elect Maria Valentina G. Plaza and, then incumbent, Governor Adolph Edward G. Plaza. Both of them readily assured their full support.

Cane later discussed the paperless session concept with some IT Unit personnel and SP employees. He explained what he thought should be done and requested them to procure the gadgets needed for the concept to work perfectly while keeping mindful of the legislative processes required under existing laws, rules and regulations in holding formal sessions. The paperless session transition team came up with their recommendations after a week.
Then came the arduous task of explaining to and convincing the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan into accepting the new method. Like the PBMLP national officers, the SP members were, at first, reluctant. Cane insisted that the paperless method would work out better in the long run, and gradually the SP members gave in and introduced an amendment to the then existing Internal Rules of Procedure (particularly, to the section which mandated the distribution in advance of hard copies of all documents employed in a particular session).Instead, soft copies of all documents were now to be uploaded into the SP Members' respective lap top units, eliminating the need for reproduction, saving on costs and man-hours. With all the barriers for a paperless session eliminated, a project proposal was formulated and approved, paving the way for the acquisition of the needed equipment. As soon as the electronics arrived, a six-module computer literacy training immediately followed to enable the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the SP Secretary and their staff to learn the basics of computer operations, the mechanics of the paperless session, and data management.
 
On September 24, 2007, during the 10th regular session of the 12th Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the first official paperless session was conducted, paving the way to a new era in local legislation in the Philippines.Thus in 2010,Agusan del Sur  was claimed as the home of the paperless session in the Philippines by the Department of Interior and Local Government(DILG).

Furthermore, Agusan del Sur's paperless session started earlier than the state Senate of Hawaii's adoption of the practice. An article on Hawaii's website www.capitol.hawaii.gov, said the Senate of Hawaii held their first paperless session in 2008.

How the paperless session operationalized
The regular session of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is held every Monday. All documents (agenda, minutes of the previous session, measures for deliberation, ordinances and resolutions for first, second and third readings, petitions and memorials, resolutions and ordinances from lower Sanggunians for review and approval, etc.) are scanned to produce soft copies (in PDF format) and uploaded into the laptops of the presiding officer, members of the SP, Secretary to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and other SP staff, every Thursday or Friday. This gives all session participants the opportunity to review the matters to be taken up in the next session.

Assigned SP staff members are tasked to scan all documents for deliberation. These documents are hyperlinked to a specific agendum. During session proper, everything is projected onto a white screen mounted on the wall of the session hall. During discussion, corrections and amendments introduced by the members of the Sanggunian are instantly integrated into the draft measure. Duly approved drafts are then printed into final copies for signing.
The benefits of the paperless session
Based on the existing records of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Agusan del Sur, an average of 4,758 sheets of bond paper are used per session. Fifteen (15) sets of all documents included in deliberations are produced. With the introduction of the paperless session, no bond paper required, thus saving on costs, man-hours, and most importantly, saving our environment -- less trees converted into paper. Other notable advantages include the faster and more efficient session process, faster retrieval of documents, easier data management, and no more storage hassle.

Furthermore, SP members are also applying the new mandate in their committee hearings. Committee reports are now done paperless, except for the mandatory requirement of one (1) hard copy set bearing the signatures of the reporting committee chairman and his/her members. The signed committee reports are then scanned and uploaded into their respective laptops, thereby providing every Sanggunian member a copy of the report.

Cane reflect on one can just imagine, if the 81 Sangguniang Panlalawigans (Provincial Boards), 120 Sangguniang Panlungsods (City Councils), 1,508 Sangguniang Bayans (Municipal Councils), and 40,043 Sangguniang Barangays (Village Councils) in the whole country, if the senate and the house of representatives go paperless in their respective sessions, how much money can the country save in terms of paper and reproduction costs? How much manpower can be spared?

The Agusan del Sur paperless session was benchmarked by the following LGUs such as Pangasinan ,Nueva Ecija ,Naga, Camarines Sur,Misamis Oriental,Davao del Norte,Compostela Valley, Dinagat Islands , Island Garden City of Samal Zamboanga Sibugay ,Panabo City,Sto. Tomas, Tagum City, Mati ,Davao Oriental, Nabunturan and recently the province of Bukidnon.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her first speech, she said that we have to rethink our paper-based system and usher in a judicial system that is less paper dependent. In the interview of the GMA News Online, Vice Governor Cane said that paperless courts is doable….why not? Indeed, adopting the use of technology in governance will entirely produce efficiency in the delivery of social services and excellence in governance and sharing accountability to the people.

References:

Balane,Walter (May 30,2013) Bukidnon provincial board eyes ‘paperless’ sessions by July

Cane Jr., Santiago(n.d.) Home of the paperless session in the Philippines. Retrieved 28 July 2013 at http://sp.agusandelsur.gov.ph/index.php/component/k2/item/111-home-of-the-first-paperless-session.

GMA News Online (August  30, 2012).CJ Sereno's idea of ‘paperless courts’ doable — local exec. Retrieved at :http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/271856/news/nation/cj-sereno-s-idea-of-paperless-courts-doable-local-exec

Agusan del Sur: Home of the Paperless Session in the Philippines. Available at:http://www.slideshare.net/RodalynTusoy/paperless-session-by-santiago-b-cane-jr

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