DESPITE the barrage of criticisms of the Senate over the discovery of the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam last year, the chamber managed to come up with laws that aim to promote transparency in government and ensure delivery of services to the public.
Since the opening of the 16th Congress in July 2013, the Senate managed to pass six measures during the first regular session of Congress.
Before adjourning sine die in June, the chamber also approved nine bills and three treaties, outdoing its performance during its first regular session when only three measures were enacted.
Among the bills that were signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd before Congress adjourned in June were Republic Act (RA) 10633, or the P2.265 trillion 2014 national budget; RA 10634 or the appropriation of P14.6 billion to augment the Calamity Fund in the 2013 national budget; Joint Resolution. No. 1 that extended the validity of appropriations under the Calamity Fund and Quick Response Fund; RA 10635 that established the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) as a single and central maritime administration to comply with international standards; RA 10632 that postponed the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections; and RA 10633 that granted Philippine citizenship to basketball player Andray Blatche.
The Senate, during its first regular session, also passed on third and final reading four landmark measures on good governance and public accountability. These include Senate Bill 1733 or the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, SB 2138 or the Sandiganbayan law; SB 1281, that sets “Jesse Robredo” Day and SB 2226 that seeks to regulate the residency requirement for and prohibits the commercialization of student-athletes.
The FOI bill aims to implement a policy of full public disclosure of all government transactions involving the public interest. The House of Representatives is yet to act on the measure, however.
The Senate also passed five proposed laws that aim to protect the public from unfair trade practices and dangerous drugs. The bills were signed by the President before Congress opened its second regular session.
The new laws include Republic Act 10642 or the Philippine Lemon Law of 2014; RA 10634 or the Pictured Based Health Warning Act; RA10644 or the Go Negosyo Act of 2013; RA 10640 or the Anti-Drug Campaign and RA 10641 also known as the Foreign Banks Act.
The Lemon Law provides protection to buyers of brand new vehicles that turn out to be “lemons” as it allows customers full refund of their money if the motor vehicles they buy are defective.
On the other hand, RA 10634 requires cigarette manufacturers to use half of the cigarette pack’s display to print pictures showing the bad effects of smoking on human health.
The Go Negosyo Act mandates the establishment of Pinoy Negosyo Centers in all cities and municipalities that will provide training and advice on business feasibility, financing, capability building and other support services.
The Anti-Drug Campaign Act calls for the preservation of seized illegal drugs.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Banks Law allows foreigners to own up to 100 percent of domestic banks and the entry of more foreign banks into the country.
Second regular session
The Senate also passed four measures on education less than a week after the opening of Congress’ second regular session.
The bills aim to grant scholarships to the top 10 graduating high school students in public high schools (SB 2275); promote open learning and distance education (SB 2274) and ladderized education that include entrepreneurship subjects in public schools (SB 2212).
SB 2275 or the proposed Iskolar ng Bayan Act mandates all state colleges and universities to annually confer automatic admission and provide scholarship grants to the top 10 students in public high school students of their graduating class. Deserving students will not be asked to pay tuition and will get textbook and living allowances. The University of the Philippines (UP), however, is not covered by the law.
The open learning and distance education bill provides an alternative means of schooling for students who cannot be physically present in classrooms.
Students enrolled in the system can get their education through the use of different learning technologies and multimedia material, based on an approved curriculum. The open learning system will be available in tertiary levels of education.
Ladderized education allows students to progress between technical-vocational education and training and college and vice-versa.
Under the measure, students who completed two years of tech-voc education will be given a certificate allowing them to be employed. Those who want to pursue higher studies can do so.
Encouraging students to establish their own business is the primary goal of SB 2212, which seeks to introduce entrepreneurship and financial subjects in the curriculum for the primary, secondary and alternative learning modules.
The bill also aims to help address unemployment since students will learn how to make money through a small business at an early age.
Aside from the four measures on education, the Senate also recently passed on final reading the proposed Open High School System Act, which seeks to make education more accessible to out-of -school youth and adults by providing them with an alternative secondary education program.
The bill aims to utilize multimedia learning and teaching technologies that will allow high school learners to study on their own pace without the need of attending classes in conventional classrooms.
The Open High School System shall be open to qualified students 18 years of age and below who have finished their elementary education, and to those who had passed the Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT). Students above 18 years of age who wish to complete their high school education shall be referred to the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the DepEd.
The Senate is set to begin discussions on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that seeks to establish a Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The passage of the bill is expected to end years of conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao.