Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament Deputy Speaker MP Atty. Laisa Masuhud Alamia was in Melbourne, Australia today, November 8, as one of the resource speakers at the 7th Melbourne Forum on Constitution Building in Asia and the Pacific. In a panel discussion with speakers from Nepal, India, and Korea, MP Alamia discussed the Bangsamoro context and how communities secure representation in government while pushing for their advocacies in the public agenda.

During her presentation, MP Alamia shared how an image of a congressional representative “braving the floods” was livestreamed on a social media platform, as a tropical storm raged through the Bangsamoro.

“This brings forth key discourses on representation in my region and the Philippines in general,” she said. Looking at the situation “from a critical standpoint,” MP Alamia pointed out how some things may have been unnecessary, despite noble intentions.

“If anything, the unimaginable human cost of the typhoon puts the Congress’ effectiveness into question, especially when our national law on disaster risk reduction and management remains untouched for 12 years,” she pointed out, despite provisions mandating a review of the law every five years. “Shouldn’t this be the priority of an official representing the people of a town that is vulnerable to natural calamities?” she asked.

“Nevertheless,” she said, “this example surfaces the reality of how representative democracy remains an abstract concept for most of our people” not only in emergency situations but also in the usual discharge of one’s mandate as a government representative.

“People often want their representatives to show up and deliver tangible goods and services,” she said, “and this gets politicians votes, more than the policies they initiate or support in Congress.”

During the open forum, speakers were asked to discuss how they handle this clash of interests between public clamor and their official mandate as public servants. Stating the case of the Bangsamoro, MP Alamia said that “on paper, our function as representatives and legislators is clear, but people in the communities often expect representatives to be involved in actual service delivery on the ground.”

“This dynamic leads to an evolution among representatives that serve in government,” she shared, “and the Bangsamoro is exploring ways to better involve communities in government planning and programming.”

Questions about public engagement via social media were also raised during the open forum. Citing the Philippine context, MP Alamia shared that social media, while it has its benefits, has led to “tragic results due to the proliferation of fake news among the public.”

The Bangsamoro has had its foray into public engagement via social media which, in turn, has also the regional government to significant backlash from fake accounts. While the national government has started to explore policies and laws that can help with verifying social media accounts online and keeping fake accounts at bay, MP Alamia stressed the need to constantly strike a delicate balance between exercising government oversight and upholding human rights principles.

This latest installment of the Melbourne Forum is titled ‘Representation: Views from the Ground Up’ and focuses on “the nature and quality of representation in legislatures from the perspective of those who are represented.” It intends to explore questions of representation and what it means for those who are represented, how these meanings take shape, and how representation can better respond to the needs of the people. The forum is organized by the Constitution Building Program of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), in collaboration with the Constitutional Transformation Network at Melbourne Law School.