Curtains fall on the 15th Congress


The resumption of session by the lame duck 15th Congress on Wednesday, June 5, promises to be a slam-bang affair. Usually, the closing sessions of Congress are largely ceremonial, highlighted by the adoption of self-congratulatory resolutions. Well, I foresee high drama and tension, with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile scheduled to deliver a privileged speech on that day.

JPE rarely delivers a privileged speech but when he does, you can be sure that it will be a strongly worded, even venomous one. I predict that he’ll make scathing remarks against his critics in the Senate and could even make good his resignation as top honcho of the chamber. And if he does resign, I’m sure he’ll throw out the window the traditional resolution adopted by the chamber before adjourning sine die extolling the Senate President for a job well done.

These days before the closing sessions of Congress, I can see JPE sharpening his knife against those whom he perceived to have done him wrong. He’s a veteran lawmaker but when emotionally aroused, he doesn’t mince words. For instance, his privileged speech against Sen. Antonio Trillanes was punctuated by unparliamentary remarks. However, there was more vitriol in his privileged speech delivered on May 25, 2009 against then Minority Leader Nene Pimentel and their succeeding debate. Nene, true to his character, didn’t budge an inch and gave as much as he received.

JPE was incensed when Nene filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court to stop the Senate Committee of the Whole from hearing the Villar case, citing among other things JPE’s “unabashed display of dictatorial tendencies as Chair of the Committee of the Whole abetted by a majority of its members.”

On that May 25, 2009 session, they exchanged what I consider the most acerbic words I had ever heard in the Senate. In their exchange of insulting words, they forgot their parliamentary rules and directly addressed each other in the first person.

“Hipokrito ka! Nagkukunwari ka na kaibigan mo ako ngunit pag wala ka na sa harap ko, sinasaksak mo ako. Hindi ka lalaking makipag-usap. May pagka-traidor ka,” JPE fumed.

“Hypocrite? The biggest hypocrite is one who fakes an ambush and then use that ambush to justify the declaration of martial law,” Nene said, referring to the ambush of JPE before martial law was imposed.

Nene also said he could not engage JPE in a shooting match because he did not even know how to handle a gun. The inference that he could shoot his enemies irked JPE further. He said that neither was he a gunslinger but even if he was, he would not “waste” a bullet on Nene.

“A bullet is too expensive for a coward,” JPE said.

Nene retorted that he nobody could accuse him of cowardice because he never ran away, nor did he go on his knees when JPE ordered his arrest three times during martial law.

Days later, JPE and Nene acted as if nothing had happened. Were their bitter exchanges just geriatric outbursts?

End the rigmarole!

Three years ago, a day before the scheduled adjournment sine die of the 14th Congress, Sen. Pia Cayetano sidled up to Sen. Joker Arroyo and sighed, “I don’t think we will adjourn tomorrow.”

“Why?” a puzzled Joker asked.

“Some bills had just been referred to my committee,” Pia explained.

This Wednesday session, the same time-consuming, irritating rigmarole will be repeated. Bills on first reading will still be referred to committees even if the curtains will fall on the 15th Congress the following day.

The upcoming 16th Congress should consider adopting a rule stopping the filing of bills and the reference of business at least threeweeks before adjournment sine die. The “last two minutes” syndrome affects even the legislature but precious time is wasted by reading the bill number and title of hundreds of bills and referring them to committees that could no longer conduct public hearings.

Legislators know how long it takes for a measure to pass through the legislative mill. Three or four weeks before adjournment sine die is too short for either House or Senate to approve a bill on third and final reading. The rules on procedure of the House and the Senate should stop any filing of bill or resolution within this period. The only exception should be Malacanang-certified priority measures and committee reports. (For the uninitiated, committee reports are also filed with the bills and index section and given new numbers before they are considered on the floor.) Malacañang certification hastens the passage of a measure as it could be voted upon on second and third readings on the same day.


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