Yet again, senators scolded the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) of the Duterte administration for its failure to coordinate between the executive branch and lawmakers.
During a budget hearing on Tuesday, September 15, senators agreed to submit the PLLO's proposed P110.1-million budget to the plenary, but Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told PLLO Secretary Adelino Sitoy that the agency has to submit a plan to ensure that it does its job.
"The PLLO should provide him (Senator Panfilo Lacson, the finance sub-committee chairperson) with a written plan on how to improve the liaison system between the executive and the Senate so that we do not again see our time wasted by the lack of coordination," Drilon said on Tuesday.
With the Duterte government already past its halfway mark, the PLLO has still been unable to satisfy senators with its ability to bridge the executive department, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, and Congress when it comes to crafting and passing laws.
"Year in, year out, this is what we put on record as the issue of the PLLO. We have not benefited from any improvement in liaisoning with us," said Drilon.
Lacson, sponsor of the PLLO budget, wondered if the lackluster performance of the agency is because it is unable to directly engage with Duterte on his issues with bills being deliberated in Congress.
Sitoy admitted that there were instances when the PLLO was informed of Duterte's position late in the game. Such was the case when Duterte vetoed the coconut farmers trust fund bill and Philippine Coconut Authority reconstitution bill in February 2019.
"In regard to the reason for the veto, we were only apprised of the reason after the passage, after Congress had sent the bill to Malacañang. While we received comments belatedly, we were advised that the comments were very confidential so we could not convey the message to Congress," said Sitoy.
Drilon concluded that Sitoy does not have access to Duterte and was "blindsided" by the presidential veto.
If the PLLO is in the dark when it comes to Duterte's concerns, it cannot advise lawmakers on provisions the Chief Executive disagrees with, thus increasing chances that he will just veto the bills they submit to him. Vetoes, while a prerogative of the President, mean a waste of time and resources on the part of lawmakers which could have been avoided if the PLLO flagged the problematic provisions from the start.
Another cause of "friction" between the executive and legislative branch that PLLO was unable to manage was the manner by which some executive agencies have crafted implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) of laws passed by Congress.
"The senators complained that there are instances when the IRR is contrary to the reason behind the law. That's one. Number two, there are instances when the law is not being implemented because of the lack of IRR even if the law does not expressly provide for the issuance of the IRR," said Drilon.
Senators, led by Senator Francis Tolentino, aired this concern on Monday, September 14. They proposed an oversight committee to check on IRRs.
While Lacson and Drilon agree that lawmakers cannot themselves formulate the IRR in order to respect the separation of powers among branches of government, they said the PLLO should take a more active role in ensuring concerns of lawmakers are taken into account when the executive department finalizes IRRs.
Sitoy said the PLLO is never informed in advance when a department begins to craft the IRR of a law it is ordered to implement.
"When the IRR is being ironed out, we are not notified and we are not involved in the process but this time, we will insist on being notified," said the PLLO chief.
PLLO Undersecretary Antonio Gallardo floated the idea of asking concerned agencies to invite concerned senators and staff to meetings on preparing the IRR.
Sitoy promised lawmakers that they would see an improved performance of the PLLO.
To prevent more vetoes, Sitoy said the PLLO has asked Cabinet secretaries to provide the PLLO, "in advance," their position papers on any relevant bill pending in Congress.
The PLLO has already received position papers of the various Cabinet Clusters on priority bills of the President.
"We have now communicated to the respective committees where the bills are pending the comments of the Cabinet clusters. We learned our lesson from the tragedy of the coco levy bill," said Sitoy.
The P110.1-million budget of PLLO for 2021 is 15% higher than its budget this year, P95.6 million.
Senators pointed out that PLLO was unable to spend some of its 2020 funds. But PLLO officials said this was partly due to some activities getting canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some P13 million of their budget was also returned to the Department of Budget and Management to be allocated for COVID-19 measures. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.