Progress in Congress? Duterte’s legislative agenda in 1st year

Progress in Congress? Duterte’s legislative agenda in 1st year
President Rodrigo Duterte does not lag far behind most of his predecessors when it comes to laws passed during their first year in office

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte, who enjoys overwhelming support in both houses of Congress, signed only 4 bills into law before the first regular session of the 17th Congress adjourned.

This number isn’t far from his predecessors’ average in their first year in office – except that of former president Fidel Ramos, who has a hefty record of 19 laws passed before he delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 1993.

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Corazon Aquino did not have any signed bills during her first year in office in 1986 because she assumed power via a people power revolution that dismantled the Marcos constitution. The 8th Congress held its first session in 1987, over a year since Mrs Aquino was swept to power. It passed 34 bills that Aquino signed into law during Congress’ first year. 

Maria Fe Mendoza, dean of the National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) of the University of the Philippines, attributed Ramos’ record number of laws passed in his first year to the creation of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). 

LEDAC is a consultative and advisory body that serves as a link between the President and Congress for policy-making.  

“FVR instituted the LEDAC, smarting from the ‘mistakes’ of Corazon Aquino and the past,” said Mendoza. “He is known to ask for full staff work and he may have demanded that to ensure all angles are covered.”  

“And maybe he worked his charm to the hilt,” she added. 

Peculiar first year

On Monday, July 24, Duterte will deliver his second SONA.

While a SONA usually includes the achievements of the administration in the past year, it also serves as a platform to highlight his legislative agenda to the Senate and the House. 

Will he request a new set of priority bills or will he urge Congress to move faster?

Congress is certainly not an obstacle to Duterte’s legislative agenda; the heads of both chambers, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, are his allies and fellow Mindanaoans. Yet, the administration’s priorities and focus somewhat contributed to the poor number of laws passed in Duterte’s first year in office.

Mendoza cited as examples the ongoing Marawi crisis, and multiple congressional inquiries on extrajudicial killings, the Davao Death Squad, and Senator Leila de Lima’s involvement in the supposed sale of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison. 

On the other hand, proposals such as the shift to federalism, reforms in the tax system, and the granting of emergency powers to solve traffic have not been aggressively pushed to pass within Duterte’s first year.

“The bills being proposed in Congress are somewhat complicated,” Mendoza said. “If there are lots of components, chances are, there would be lots of opponents.”

These complications would require intensive staff work to iron out the kinks in the bills – not to mention a vigorous lobby from no less than the President himself.

“Legislation is not just addressing an immediate problem” except in cases of emergency, she explained. “In usual times, [it also addresses] development issues of the society with hopefully long-term effects.”  

Based on an NCPAG study, Mendoza said it takes at least 3 congresses or a period of 9 years before a bill becomes law. This allows consultation with stakeholders and the reflection of a proposed measure’s pros and cons. 

Congress would also have to make the bills compatible with existing laws and international conventions.

The legislature ran into this issue when Duterte proposed yet another postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections (and the appointment of interim officials as a consequence), as well as the return of the death penalty, noted Mendoza. 

Then there’s the transmittal of a finished bill itself to the President for approval.

Six of 7 bills passed by both houses before Congress went on recess in May 2016 – the presidential elections – were sent to the Office of the President only in July, past Duterte’s first anniversary in office. One of these bills became Republic Act 10927, which puts casinos under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, after Duterte signed it on July 14.

Reaping previous congress’ output  

The President has 3 options when a bill passed by both houses of Congress lands on his desk:

  • Sign
  • Veto
  • Allow the bill to lapse into law

Section 27(1), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution states that the President can veto any measure originating from Congress within 30 days after receipt. If he does not take any action within that period, “it shall become a law as if he had signed it.” 

It was during Joseph Estrada’s first year in office (1998-1999) when the biggest number of bills transmitted lapsed into law, courtesy of his predecessor. A total of 56 bills passed by the 10th Congress under Ramos became laws under the Estrada administration. 

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Duterte comes as the second biggest beneficiary of the number of bills that lapsed into law, courtesy of his predecessor. A total of 53 bills passed by Congress before Benigno Aquino III stepped down became laws under Duterte, including landmark laws such as the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Philippine Credit Card Industry Regulation Law, among others.

Aquino “may have thought these are good laws, and if they are not acted upon, no adverse effect may happen,” said Mendoza.

A newly-elected President also has the option to sign bills passed by the previous Congress but were not signed by the person he succeeded or has yet to lapse into law.

Among the 6 presidents post-Martial Law, Arroyo and Ramos were the only ones who signed bills that were passed by a previous Congress.

Of EOs and proclamations

Complementing Duterte’s legislative agenda are his executive orders (EOs) and proclamations, considered part of the ordinance powers given to the President.

It is in EOs where “acts of the President providing rules of a general or permanent character in implementation or execution of constitutional or statutory powers” are stated, according to the Administrative Code of 1987.

Duterte only released a total of 31 EOs in his first year – the least among the Philippine presidents in the post-Marcos era covering the same period of their first 12 months in office.

Nonetheless, many of his EOs have carried huge weight, such as EO No. 2 or the freedom of information (FOI) in the executive branch, EO No. 15 creating an inter-agency council and task force to combat illegal drugs, EO No. 26 or the nationwide smoking ban in public places, and EO No. 28 which limits the use of firecrackers only to community fireworks displays.

Mendoza said Duterte – or any president for that matter – can issue these EOs, and he knows the parameters of his powers.

It may also be his way of “jolting” Congress for not crafting equivalent laws, and earning “pogi points” (praises) in the process. But Mendoza emphasized that unlike laws – which have to go through lawmakers and the entire backbreaking legislative process – EOs are “done by the President with a very small technical working group, particularly the [Office of the] Executive Secretary.”

Mendoza observed that some of Duterte’s EOs were the same as what he implemented in Davao City, where he was mayor for over two decades.

She pointed out, however, that not all of his proposals that worked in Davao City may be enforced nationwide via an executive order. “He should see first how he may complement, or not, the mandates of the different offices” like local government units, Mendoza said.

Finally, while EOs can introduce incremental change, these run the risk of being repealed by succeeding presidents “unless there is an enabling law” or a similar measure passed by Congress to make it permanent, explained Mendoza.

Presidential proclamations, meanwhile, are acts of a president “fixing a date or declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest.”

While he lags behind when it comes to signed laws and EOs, Duterte had the most proclamations during his first year in office.

A total of 245 Presidential Proclamations were released from June 30, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

Perhaps the most controversial is Proclamation No. 216 declaring martial law in Mindanao following the Marawi siege.

Duterte’s total, however, does not differ much from those of previous administrations.

Coming in second is Ramos with 200 proclamations from June 30, 1992 to June 30, 1993. – Rappler.com

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