• Free education, health care among Senate priorities

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    A STRONGER anti-corruption law, access to free quality education and health care and genuine agriculture reform are among the top priorities of the five neophyte and four returning senators in the 17th congress.

    Senator-elect Leila de Lima wants to update the several provisions in the Revised Penal Code that are already obsolete in order to effectively address human trafficking, drug trafficking, and cybercrime in the country.

    De Lima, a former secretary of the Justice Department, also plans to review laws on corruption specifically on the existing legal procedures and mechanisms on hidden wealth and find ways on how to make it more difficult for plunderers to use, hide and conceal their ill-gotten wealth.

    According to De Lima the country has the forfeiture law but it is still so difficult to freeze assets.

    The former DOJ chief also plans to simplify the criminal investigation process in order expedite the release of innocents from jail and enforce punishment of those who are guilty.

    Returning Sen. Panfilo Lacson is looking at amending the plunder law, which punishes ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts involving P50 million, expanded to penalize habitual stealing.

    Lacson will also push for a bill that seeks to amend the Bank Secrecy Act, in particular waiving the privacy of bank records of all public servants.

    His bill will cover all government officers and employees, whether appointive or elective, and from the President down to the lowest-ranking employee. This also includes all members of the police and the military.

    Incoming Sen. Richard Gordon meanwhile will support a law that will provide government funding to political parties so that politicians will not be tempted to engaged in corruption activities to raise funds.

    As for education, Senator-elect Sherwin Gatchalian will be filing a bill that seeks to make college education in all State Universities and Colleges (SUSs) free.

    Gatchalian said education will be among his top priorities because he believes that it can help improve the country’s competitiveness.

    First time Senator Joel Villanueva will also focus on education, including technical vocational education and provide Filipino with decent jobs.

    Villanueva, the former Director General of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will also take a serious look at the situation of contractual employment in the country, because a number of technical vocation graduates are affected by the scheme.

    Incoming Sen. Manny Pacquiao on the other hand said that he would push for free education on all levels and a strong sports development program that would help Filipino youths who are into sports.

    Providing a quality health care program will be the priority of Senate newbie Risa Honteveros, particularly the widening of PhilHealth coverage, establishment of more “super barangay health centers,” amending the Anti-Deposit Law in hospitals and raising the compensation of basic health workers.

    Returning Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri will also be pushing for free health care and services, including hospitalization, in government hospitals and health facilities under the “No Balance Billing” program.

    Zubiri said he is not in favor of the move to privatize all government hospitals and would work on giving more funding to public health facilities including health centers so that they would be able to serve more patients

    Zubiri will also support proposed measures which seeks to provide free breakfast and lunch for public elementary and high school students or the “Food for School Program;” upgrade the salary grade of Teachers’ entry level from SG 10 to 18; establish special education centers for special students in every DepEd school division through the enactment of the Special Education Act, and enact a Magna Carta for Students.

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan vows to continue his advocacy in the sector of agriculture particularly in finding more means to generate more agricultural jobs to alleviate poverty.

    Pangilinan, former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said he plans to come up with a measure that would bring more government support to agriculture in order to lower the price of food commodities and uplift the living condition of farmers.

    Six of the nine new and returning senators have reportedly signed the resolution manifesting their support to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd’s bid for the senate presidency and were also given their respective committee chairmanships.

    Based on the partial list of committee chairmanship recently released by the majority bloc, the public order and dangerous drugs committee will be chaired by Lacson, committee on justice by De lima, committee on Agriculture by Pangilinan, committee on energy by Gatchalian, committee on health by Hontiveros, and committee on sports Pacquiao.

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