• New senators bare priorities

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

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

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

    She said while the country has laws on forfeiture, it is difficult to freeze assets.

    De Lima also plans to simplify the criminal investigation process expedite the release of innocent people from jail and punish those who are guilty.

    Returning Sen. Panfilo Lacson while is looking at amending the plunder law, which punishes those convicted of illegally amassing wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts involving P50 million and expand it 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 officials and employees, whether appointive or elective, from the President down to the lowest-ranking employee and all members of the police and the military.

    Incoming Sen. Richard Gordon said he will support a law that will provide government funding to political parties so that politicians will not be tempted to engage in corrupt activities to raise funds.

    Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian will file a bill that seeks to make college education in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) 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 help provide Filipinos with decent jobs.

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

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

    Providing quality health care will be the priority of Senate newbie Risa Honteviros, 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 will also support proposed measures seeking to provide free breakfast and lunch for public elementary and high school students or the “Food for School Program”; upgrade teachers’ entry level salary grade from SG 10 to 18; and 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 vowed to continue his advocacy in the agriculture sector, particularly generating more agricultural jobs to alleviate poverty.

    Pangilinan, a former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said he plans to come up with measures to 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 released by the majority bloc, the Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee will be chaired by Lacson, the Committee on Justice by de Lima, the Committee on Agriculture by Pangilinan, the Committee on Energy by Gatchalian, the Committee on Health by Hontiveros, and the Committee on Sports by Pacquiao.

    Gordon, Zubiri and Villanueva have yet to decide if they will join the majority bloc or join Sens. Francis Escudero and Antonio Trillanes 4th in the minority bloc.

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