Senate to tackle bills on Sandiganbayan
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate resumes sessions on Monday, May 5, and is expected to tackle a bill that will allow the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, to dispose of cases faster and more efficiently.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a statement that Senate Bill No. 2138 is of “utmost importance,” given strong public sentiment against corruption.
If enacted into law, the proposed bill will enable faster and efficient prosecution of graft and plunder cases against erring public servants, Drilon said. Its urgency is underscored by the pending plunder cases in the Office of the Ombudsman which will eventually decide whether or not it will file these cases before the Sandiganbayan.
Earlier former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said it now takes an average of 10.2 years to resolve cases against corrupt government officials. (READ: Want to jail the corrupt? Wait for at least 10 years) When he was Ombudsman from 2002 to 2005, it took the Sandiganbayan 6.6 years to do so, Marcelo said.
The Sandiganbayan, Marcelo pointed out, remains to be the bottleneck in the fight against corruption.
“SBN 2138 will be crucial in enforcing a speedier promulgation of cases involving corruption, thus helping create a system of deterrence where those who attempt to misuse public resources can expect to be immediately dealt with justice,” Drilon said.
Along with Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona, the Liberal Party senators are pushing for reforms in the anti-graft court. Three colleagues in the Senate – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr – are facing plunder charges before the Ombudsman in connection with their alleged misuse and abuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund.
While Drilon (earlier seen in photographs with Janet Lim Napoles, alleged engineer of the pork barrel scam) has filed a bill authorizing individual justices to hear and receive evidence on behalf of the Sandiganbayan division he or she belongs to, Guingona wants to increase from 5 to 15 the number of divisions in the anti-graft court. The Sandiganbayan bill proposes to introduce changes in the majority vote – whereas before the vote had to be unanimous, a vote of 2 out of 3 justices in a division can already constitute a decision.
Drilon said in an interview Sunday, May 4, on DZBB, they hope to pass this bill in May. A counterpart bill has been filed in the House by Iloilo Representative Niel "Junjun" Tupas, also the chair of the House Committee on Justice. Drilon added that in a meeting Monday morning with House counterparts, he would ask that the proposed bill on the Sandiganbayan be given priority.
Drilon also said in his radio interview they waiting for the Palace to submit to Congress the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Originally, they were supposed to receive it on Monday, May 5, but the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) gave its copy to Malacañang only "after or during the Holy Week," Drilon said.
Lawyers from the Office of the President and the Department of Justice have to review what was submitted by the BTC and make sure provisions in the proposed Basic Law do not violate the Constitution – before these are submitted to Congress for approval. The Bangsamoro Basic Law will be the basis for the creation of a new Bangsamoro autonomous region or political entity in Mindanao.
Also on the list of proposed measures to be addressed is Senate Bill No. 27, which seeks to discourage Filipinos from smoking by requiring all tobacco products to bear pictures illustrating the ill-effects of smoking. Drilon and Senator Pia Cayetano are authors of the bill. Drilon said the Senate expects to pass the bill also in May.
The Senate is expected to pass on third and final reading a bill that will legally compel telephone companies to disseminate early warnings of disasters, at no added cost to the consumer or the government.
The Senate is likewise tackling bills increasing the tax exemption limit on 13th month pay and other benefits, and raising the allowances of members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and of all personnel of the Philippine National Police.
Other bills to be addressed on the floor include the following:
- SBN 2042, which seeks to prohibit the development, production or stockpiling of chemical weapons in the country
- SBN 914, which would regulate and modernize the Philippine’s practice of chemistry
- SBN 2055, which seeks to regulate the practice of forestry
- SBN 2103, which seeks to regulate practice of metallurgical engineering in the country – Rappler.com