MANILA, Philippines – Today marks the opening of the Third Regular Session of the Fifteenth Congress of the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines.
We congregate anew, not only in the spirit of celebration and with the promise to render public service, but also—and always—with a sense of urgency dictated by the needs of our people and the demand of the times.
It is said that a nation’s life is a series of cycles. So then, it is the Senate’s task to anticipate the needs of a nation. Every Senator is looked upon to solve an immediate concern, proposing to solve it in a manner beneficial to all, the results of which can only be measured after the passage of time.
It is for this reason that, as Senators, we must have the mind of a keen mathematician, the romantic heart of a poet, and the pragmatism of a patient farmer.
As previously reported, the Senate, in the preceding Second Regular Session, passed several measures which were finally enacted into law, which includes the following, among others:
R.A. 10154 which seeks to guarantee the early release of government employees’ retirement pay;
R.A. 10156 which confers civil service eligibility to the members of the Sangguniang Bayan, Panglungsod and Panlalawigan, under certain conditions;
R.A. 10158 which decriminalizes vagrancy;
R.A. 10167 which strengthens the Anti Money Laundering Law and plugs the loop-holes in the old law; and,
R.A. 10168 which prohibits financing of terrorist activities.
But, we are also cognizant of the reality that—as in all things in a nation’s life—pressing concerns need vital attention while new challenges loom over the horizon.
Now, at the start of the Third Regular Session, I, together with 22 of my colleagues—eager as the break of dawn—stand ready to tackle the following legislative measures and fill the remaining days of the 15th Congress with work that our people are depending on us to do.
Continuing from where we left off in the last session, your Senate wishes to focus on the following vital measures.
Economists are optimistic that the regional economy in this part of the world is in the upswing. With the example set by democratizing Burma, foreign corporations are training their investment sights to Southeast Asia. Countries with the friendliest investment climates will be able to attract business. Although we desire to emerge as the country which can bag these economic opportunities, we should not permit it to happen at the expense of the local economy. We should also be mindful that unbridled business expansion often leads to the transformation of corporations into conglomerates that may prove unhealthy in the long run.
A substantial number of experts in business and economy have postulated that when only a few emerge as owners of business, a majority of our countrymen are reduced to being workers along the conveyor belt or robot consumers of products they have no control over. Moreover, the concentration of wealth that these businesses generate leaves less for those who already have none.
The improvement of the economy is a government’s vital concern. But our way of allowing business to prosper must be guided, not only by a sense of free enterprise, but also by the spirit of stewardship.
Your Senate, as part of this government, wishes to generate an economic climate that encourages the creation of goods and services in a playing field that is intentionally made fair for all.
For this reason, the Senate will prioritize Senate Bill 3098 to prohibit or discourage the formation of anti-competitive mergers and anti-competitive conduct. In order to protect our people, we must ensure that prices are dictated by the market and not fixed as a result of any corporation’s control over the quantity of products produced. We must not allow colluding firms to divide businesses solely among themselves. Nor should we permit them to abuse their dominant status by artificially creating barriers against other firms who want to do business.
Furthermore, we believe in improving our country’s capacity to create goods and services. If our country is to ride the crest of an economic boom, we must eradicate practices that make us passive consumers of the world market.
On the other side of the coin, we should be on the look-out for the genius in the Filipino entrepreneur and ensure that he is able to enjoy the economic benefits that can be derived from his creations. Thus, we are set to pass on Third Reading Senate Bill 3071, which aims to promote competitive Filipino design by strengthening the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines.
We will also approve on Third Reading Senate Bill 2842, which seeks to upgrade the copyright section of the Department of Trade and Industry into a servicing bureau under the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Hence, the creation of a Bureau of Copyright will facilitate the immediate resolution of cases involving issues on copyright, licensing, and collective management agreements.
With regard to consumer protection, the Senate looked into the rampant reports of the sale of “botcha” or meat from animals which have died because of contamination or disease. The sale of contaminated food is an unnecessary health hazard that our families must not be made to endure. Senate Bill No. 2746 provides that meat and meat products bear a label indicating its place of origin. Once enacted into law, this requirement will energize our meat retail industry by bringing back the public’s trust in their products.
Your Senate likewise looked into the housing backlog that has been increasingly rising since the mid-80s. It is predicted that we are on the brink of a real estate boom. But it is ironic that present statistics indicate that over one hundred thousand families are still considered informal settlers and, worse, live in disaster-prone areas. To address this, we are going to pass Senate Bill 3199 and provide an improved framework by which the Department of Housing and Urban Development, together with the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Counsel and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board can improve housing conditions specially in already-crowded urban communities.
Together with housing, another national resource, the use of which needs to be addressed, is land. Contemporary issues on environment, cultural and built heritage preservation, disaster-preparedness and other concerns compel us to re-assess our countries policies on real estate concerns. Ripe for review is the National Land Use Act under Senate Bill 3091. Our goal is to make the utilization, management and development of land compatible with maximum return, social equitability and ecological sustainability.
While the foregoing Senate measures have been proposed to address economic challenges, your Senate would also like to respond to other matters that pertain to intangible rights.
One of those rights relate to our peoples’ right to information and our Constitution’s mandate for a transparency in government. Discussion on the Freedom of Information Bill, which we now call People’s Ownership over Government Information (POGI) under Senate Bill No. 3208, is important because it will establish the guiding policy to the public’s access to basic information about the government operations. The Senate has previously legislated better access to public bidding by requiring government agencies to post bidding notices in the internet. The POGI bill expands the area in which we can make governments more accountable to their constituencies.
Benefits of transparency
It is the assumption in this bill that Juan dela Cruz, as a citizen and taxpayer, is entitled to know how much of public funds are paid for what. In considering this bill, your Senate will debate on the scope of this right, as it may be open to abusive practices. Nonetheless, we in the Senate commit to the principle that the key to good government is accountability. I would think that, with a few exceptions, government spending should be open to public scrutiny.
The benefits of transparency are mutually advantageous to civil society and government. The vigilance of our citizens becomes the standard which our public leaders will be measured. Transparency parts the curtains of corruption and illegal practices. In turn, accountability, will refine decision-making, and make leadership and public institutions more responsive and efficient.
Among the other measures that we shall also prioritize are:
Senate Bill No. 3093, Declaring the filing of false complaints against public officers as an aggravating circumstance of perjury;
Senate Bill No. 2857, Institutionalizing the participation of civil society organizations in the preparation of the annual national budget;
Senate Bill No. 107, Requiring public officials and employees to submit a written permission of waiver in favor of the Ombudsman to look into bank deposits;
Senate Bill No. 3214, Strengthening the political party system; and,
Senate Bill No. 3123, further amending the Anti Money Laundering Act.
In the next couple of days, or months perhaps, I also foresee discussion on two measures that have been cause for intense debate.
The Reproductive Health Bill is one of those rare measures in the Senate that has been a magnet of philosophical musings and emotional sentiments from various sectors.
The other subject that may confront the chamber is the possibility of introducing amendments to the 1987 Constitution. But, let me be very clear about this. We will agree to such a move to amend the Constitution, but only with respect to the economic provisions of the present Charter.
As I previously explained to the members of the Senate press corps, House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte and I do not seek to revise the Constitution. Rather, we seek to amend only certain economic provisions therein such that there will be more flexibility in the ownership of certain industries, particularly those that are involved in the exploration, development and utilization of our natural resources.
Our people and the Senators who represent them have expressed well considered opinions for and against these issues. Rather than burying our heads in the sand, I think it will serve the Senate’s best interests if we take cognizance of the lines drawn.
The issues raised by the Reproductive Health Bill and the charter change stem from a need we have to address and thus demand an answer from this chamber. I know that we, in the Senate, will tackle these issues with tact and bravery.
It is also important to note that our oversight committees have also been active in the previous regular session.
For one, the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System has conducted hearings and consultations, which provided the basis for their concurrence with the purchase by the Commission on Elections of the PCOS machines. We are counting on the work of this oversight committee to ensure not only the timely delivery and testing of these PCOS machines but also to ascertain that all the other requirements and preparations for the 2013 elections will be dutifully undertaken by all agencies concerned.
Lastly, we anticipate the submission of the proposed 2013 national budget by the Executive Department to Congress in the next few weeks. In the same way that Congress passed the General Appropriations Act in the previous Regular Sessions in an expeditious manner, I am confident that the Senate Committee on Finance will likewise work hard for the timely passage of the 2013 budget. More importantly, I am certain that the Committee will likewise see to it that the 2013 budget will be thoroughly studied so that each peso contributed by every Filipino’s toil – here and abroad; and by every corporation doing business in the Philippines – will be spent wisely and conscientiously on programs and projects for the country’s gain.
This then, among others, will be our legislative agenda. All of these, we promise to deliver to the people.
Our dear countrymen, we, in the Senate, do not have the fairy tale illusions that legislation will remedy every national ill. I have made the foregoing enumeration as a public servant’s obligation to keep the Senate transparent and to make ourselves accountable to you.
I do not wish to belittle the challenges that are before us. As much as possible, we in the Senate would want to pass as many laws as time allows for the remainder of the 15th legislative Congress. But democracy is ennobled by the voice of many. And it takes time for voices to harmonize.
I have been witness to the vast potential of our nation. And I stand before our people in awe; in their courage and undying hope in times of adversity; and the faith they have reposed in their representatives in our country’s institutions.
And if, to some, our dreams are bigger than our means, it is only because I believe dreams have the power to propel. For these reasons, I invite all of us together—this Administration, this Congress, our nation—to share this vision and, in speaking with one voice, find the will to clear the brambles in the landscape and to make the land yield to a harvest of our dreams.
Now that we have surveyed our stars and laid the strategy, let us join hands, and like the good farmer, do the work that our people demand. – Rappler.com
(This was the speech delivered by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile at the Senate during the opening of the 3rd regular session of Congress on Monday, July 23)
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