• The barren closing agenda of the 15th Congress



    Some leave their best for last. Obviously, the 15th Congress is not among them, just by looking at the Senate agenda in its closing session. The House is not expected to be of much help either, as it might not even muster a quorum, a perennial problem of the chamber.

    Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto calendared 36 bills for approval on third reading in today’s session. The number is impressive; the quality of the bills isn’t. In fact, the Senate may not act on most of those bills and the country would not even notice it. Sadly missing from the bills on third reading are measures that would have made a greater impact on the nation like the Anti-Trust law and the much-delayed amendment of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira). Th 15th Congress had already consigned to the archives the much awaited Freedom of Information Act creating much weeping in media.

    President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino 3rd grandly announced in his very first State of the Nation Address his legislative program that included the proposed Anti-trust law. This measure would prevent big businesses, especially the oil giants, from forming a cartel that could dictate prices and control market forces. Within the three years of the 15th Congress, this bill hardly moved. Were our legislators under the thumb of multinationals that they had totally ignored this vital measure?

    There have been much noise about amending the Epira from the very day it was enacted with much pressure from our creditors. Sen. Joker Arroyo has never grown tired of pointing out that the main objectives of Epira—to lower electric power cost and to privatize the National Power Corp.—have not been realized more than a decade after it became a law. To make matters worse, the foreign debts of Napocor had even increased. President BS Aquino cited the amending of Epira as a priority of his administration so why is it still languishing in the House and the Senate?

    Other supposed priority bills of President BS Aquino are now consigned to the resting ground of the legislature. Among them are the proposed amendment of the Government Procurement Reform Act, Land Use, the law defining the maritime zone of the Philippines, and the reorganization of the National Food Authority. I guess he didn’t give them as much priority as the deferment of the election at the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the first law under his administration, the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the Reproductive Health law. BS Aquino said he would appoint as ARMM officer-in-charge somebody who’s not interested in seeking the post, appointed Mujiv Hattaman, and then endorsed him as official candidate of the Liberal Party for ARMM governor.

    Instead of the “priority” bills identified by President BS Aquino, the Senate will be pushing for a last-minute approval of bills with limited impact on the nation like the National Athletes, Coaches and Trainers’ Act, the Philippine Public Safety College, An Act Rationalizing the Management of the Natural Resources of Camotes Island, and An Act Rationalizing the Board of Regents of Partido State University. A notch above these bills are the proposed Science and Technology Scholarship with Teaching Incentives Act, the Rural Farm Workers Act and the Food Safety Act. Oh yes, a number of bills up for third reading commendably seek to increase the minimum bed capacity of some government hospital and to establish fish ports in strategic areas. Well, good luck on their funding.

    I’m puzzled by the inclusion of Senator Sotto of 14 bills in the Senate’s closing agenda when these bills are still in the period of interpellation. Their inclusion is a complete waste of time. Even if the senators, by some miracle, would pass the 14 bills on second reading, there’s no way they could approve them on third and final reading before the adjournment sine die of the 15th Congress. Incidentally, included in this category is (sob) the bill seeking to modernize the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Sciences Administration. The best is in the last?

    As of this writing, the House majority leader still has to come out with the chamber’s closing agenda. Maybe, it doesn’t have to do. In the 14th Congress, the absence of quorum prevented the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report on the Freedom of Information Act before it adjourned sine die. Nobody was questioning the absence of a quorum until the majority leader moved to bring the bicam report on the FOI to the floor for ratification. Rather than abruptly end the closing session of the 14th Congress, the House leadership decided to sacrifice (sob, sob) the ratification of the FOI bicam report.



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