MANILA, Philippines – Passing a bill into law involves a long, arduous process that often takes months or even years to complete.
A lawmaker in the House of Representatives or the Senate files his or her bill, which would then have to go through 3 readings before members of the House where the bill was filed vote on it.
The approved version of the bill will then be passed to the other House for concurrence, going through another 3 readings.
A bicameral conference committee then decides to settle any possible differences in the provisions approved by the House and the Senate.
Once the committee finalizes all changes, the bill will then be passed on to the president, who may approve the bill and finally sign it into law, or decide to veto it.
If the president thumbs down the bill, Congress may repass the vetoed act, but only if it gets the approval of 2/3 of both the House and the Senate voting separately.
Traditionally, Congress prioritizes the passage of bills that are part of the sitting president’s legislative agenda.
For President Rodrigo Duterte, these include federalism, getting emergency powers from Congress to address traffic, extending passport validity, and tax reform, among others. (FULL TEXT: President Duterte's 1st State of the Nation Address)
Here are some of the bills that have long been languishing in Congress in the past years and have once again been refiled in the 17th Congress. (READ: Death penalty, urban problems top House legislative agenda)
Will Duterte's term as president finally see the passage of these bills into law?
Freedom of information
The passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) act has become more likely under the 17th Congress after Duterte signed an executive order (EO) mandating full public disclosure of all offices under the executive branch.
The previous 16th Congress failed to pass the FOI bill, causing a huge disappointment among civic groups and watchdogs who have long been clamoring for its passage. (READ: Why the Philippines needs a freedom of information law)
This time, several lawmakers refiled versions of the bills under the 17th Congress.
For the HoR, they are Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilar Jr, Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte, Cebu 1st District Representative Raul del Mar, Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, and Quezon City 5th District Representative Alfred Vargas.
Senator Juan Edgarda “Sonny” Angara, who refiled his version of the bill at the Senate, also said Duterte’s EO should not stop Congress from prioritizing the FOI bill.
“President Duterte should be congratulated for implementing these very important rules on transparency. He is walking his talk. This shouldn’t, however, stop Congress from passing a comprehensive law that will cover all branches of government, including the legislative and the judiciary,” said Angara.
Senator Grace Poe also filed her version of the FOI act.
SSS pension hike
Aging Social Security System (SSS) retirees took to the streets when former president Benigno Aquino III rejected the measure which provides for a P2,000-hike in the monthly pension of SSS members in January 2016. (READ: Senior citizens: 'We can't afford medication without SSS pension hike’)
Then-Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares appealed to his fellow legislators at the 16th Congress to override the former president’s veto, but to no avail.
But the party-list group is not giving up the fight as Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate expressed optimism that the SSS pension hike bill would be prioritized by the 17th Congress.
“When the 16th Congress closed, more than 130 congressmen supported the resolution to override the unjust and callous veto of former President Aquino. Now, we are truly glad and thankful that several other members of the House are filing the same measure that Bayan Muna filed since 2011,” said Zarate.
Senators Cynthia Villar and Antonio Trillanes IV also filed separate bills at the Upper House seeking to grant a P2,000 across-the-board increase in the monthly pension of about 1.9 million SSS members.
During his first press conference in Davao City as President-elect in June, Duterte said he is supporting legislators’ moves to increase the pension for senior citizens.
Passing the SSS pension hike bill was also among the marching orders given by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to legislators.
Versions of the anti-political dynasty bill have been repeatedly refiled over the past 30 years. A study by the Asian Institute of Management showed that 74% of district representatives belong to political families.
In the last Congress, measures restricting political dynasties were filed at the HOR and the Senate, but these did not prosper.
Now, Quezon City 4th District Representative Feliciano Belmonte Jr filed House Bill (HB) Number 166 or the “Anti-Political Dynasty Act.”
This bill says a political dynasty exists when 3 or more individuals within the second degree of consanguinity hold or run for national and local posts in simultaneous or overlapping terms.
“Almost 30 years have passed without an enabling law to define political dynasties. Meanwhile, the present political landscape is witness to influential politicians and their families, maintaining positions of power for a considerable time,” said Belmonte.
“Social justice requires us to provide equal opportunity for all, including the opportunity to serve. Political dynasties make it prohibitive for our citizens to run for public office. It is thus incumbent upon the House of Representatives and the Senate to provide an enabling law defining political dynasties to give people who do not belong to political dynasties a chance to serve the people,” he added.
Senator Franklin Drilon also refiled his version of the anti-political dynasty act via Senate Bill (SB) Number 230.
The President, however, is not in favor of an anti-political dynasty bill, which, he claims, may possibly narrow voters’ choice and curtail their freedom of expression.
Duterte’s daughter Inday Sara is Davao City’s newly-elected mayor, while his son Paolo is the vice mayor.
Anti-discrimination vs the LGBT community
At least 3 legislators in the lower chamber once again refiled their versions of the “Anti-Discrimination Act”, which seeks to end discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.
These lawmakers are Baguilat, Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao, and Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman to be elected Philippine congresswoman. (READ: Proponents hope to pass anti-discrimination bill in 17th Congress)
Should the Anti-Discrimination Act be finally passed by the 17th Congress, the law would ban discriminatory practices on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. (READ: The long road to an LGBT anti-discrimination law)
These include hiring, firing and demotions; rejection or expulsion from any educational or training institution; giving harsher penalties, punishments, and requirements; refusal and revocation of honors, achievements, and licenses; hindrance of use of public facilities; mandatory psychological tests; and harassment or refused protection by law enforcers.
A fine of P100,000 to P500,000, one to 6 years in prison, or community service may be imposed on violators.
“Napapanahon na. Kahit ang mismong Papa natin mismo nire-recognize niya ang karapatan ng LGBT community. And of course, pinananawagan din siya na 'wag idiscriminate ang mga kapatid nating LGBT,” Roman said.
(It’s about time. Even the Pope recognizes the rights of the LGBT community. And of course, he also called on people to stop discriminating against the LGBT community.)
The country’s divorce bill was filed in 2010 and has since languished in Congress. Gabriela's Luzviminda Ilagan told Rappler in April 2015 that since the bill’s filing 6 years ago, it has had only one hearing.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman then refiled HB Number 116 which is seeking to institutionalize absolute divorce in the country.
HB Number 116’s declaration of policy states: “While the State continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution, it gives the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure an absolute divorce decree under limited grounds and well-defined procedures to avoid abuse, save the children from the pain and stress of their parents’ marital clashes, and grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance to achieve marital bliss.”
The grounds for legal separation and annulment of marriage stipulated in the Family Code of the Philippines will be adopted as grounds for absolute divorce.
These will include the following: marital abuse, sexual infidelity, attempt against the life of the other, abandonment, de facto separation, conviction for a crime when the sentence is more than six years, contracting a subsequent bigamous marriage, drug addiction or habitual alcoholism, homosexuality, lack of parental consent, vitiated consent, impotency, insanity and affliction of sexually transmissible disease, and psychological incapacity.
Married couples may opt for divorce as well if either one of the spouses secures a valid foreign divorce, a canonical divorce, a gender reassignment surgery, and “when irreconcilable differences or conflicts exist between the married couple which are beyond redemption despite earnest and repeated efforts at reconciliation.”
National ID system
Belmonte authored HB Number 12 or the "Filipino Identification System Act." AKO Bicol Representatives Rodel Bacobe and Christopher Co also co-authored a bill with the same title, HB Number 523.
Bills creating a national ID system were filed in the previous 16th Congress. The House of Representatives passed them, but they were stuck at the Senate until the end of the session.
Both bills would require all Filipinos residing anywhere in the world to register their personal information into the central system to be managed by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
A registered Filipino will be issued a non-transferable Filipino ID card with a number that would be valid for life.
The Filipino ID card would be honored in transactions involving a person's identity, marital status, birth, and other personal circumstances.
The Philippines remains as one of the 9 countries in the world still without a national identification system. (READ: National ID to benefit unemployed, unbanked Filipinos)
Salary standardization law
After Congress failed to pass the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) IV last session, Belmonte and Drilon refiled new versions of the bill in both chambers to increase the compensation and benefits of government employees.
Drilon’s SB Number 13 is seeking a 27% average increase in the salary of about 1.53 million state workers over a period of 3 years. The 14th month pay would also raise the basic pay by 8%.
The senator also wants workers to receive a mid-year month pay bonus equivalent to a month’s basic salary as well as an enhanced performance-based bonus equal to one to two months’ worth of basic salary.
Belmonte, meanwhile, wants an average increase of 45% in compensation for all salary grades, the 14th month pay, and an enhanced performance-based bonus to be implemented in 4 years.
“For this purpose, the Act shall raise the minimum salary for Salary Grade 1 from the current rate of P9,000 to P11,068 to make it even more competitive with the market rates; and bring the compensation of government personnel closer to their private counterparts to at least 70% of the market rate for all salary grades,” said Belmonte.
Earlier this year, Aquino had signed an EO providing for the implementation of the first 4 tranches under the SSL IV, which the Congress did not enact after the bicameral conference committed failed to reconcile differences over the proposed law.
Abolishing labor contractualization
Versions of the security of tenure bill have been refiled over the years in a bid to stop labor contractualization or “endo”, a colloquial term referring to “end of contract.” (READ: Can the next president end contractualization?)
This is the process by which companies hire employees for less than 6 months to avoid being covered by the labor code requirement to regularize employment after that period. Endo becomes a means for businesses to skirt giving mandatory benefits and bonuses to regular employees.
Among the first 5 bills refiled by Bag-ao is HB Number 55, which seeks to amend the labor code to provide a trilateral relationship in legitimate subcontracting among the principal subcontractor and other contractual workers.
Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles and Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Representative Jericho Jonas Nograles also co-authored HB Number 1351.
A clearer definition for subcontracting would be provided, leading to subcontracted employees being entitled to the rights and privileges being enjoyed by regular employees.
The labor law would be amended to indicate specific provisions prohibiting labor-only subcontracting and subcontracting arrangements, as well as principals having 20% of their total employees subcontracted workers.
Meanwhile, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao also filed a bill defining a contractor or subcontractor as a person or an entity with whom an employer or principal enters into a contract for the performance of the latter’s work.
“Under the bill, when the contractor or subcontractor contracts to perform work that is necessary and desirable for the business of the employer, the employees or workers of the contractor or subcontractor shall be considered the employees of the employer and not of the contractor or subcontractor,” said Casilao.
Similarly, Kabayan Representative Harry Roque’s HB Number 916 or “Anti-Endo Act” also seeks to remove the “discrimination in statutory rights” between fixed-term or contractual employees and regular employees.
Roque’s bill provides specific guidelines on how contractual and regular employees may be compared to determine if the first should already be considered a permanent worker by their employers.
Income tax reform
Bohol 3rd District Representative Arthur Yap’s HB Number 39 seeks to reform the country’s income tax system to lift some burden off low-wage earners, giving them a higher net income and also increasing their purchasing power.
HB Number 39 exempts minimum wage earners from paying the income tax on their taxable income, 13th month pay, their sick, vacation, and other leave credits convertible to cash, holiday pay, overtime pay, night shift differential pay, separation pay, retirement pay, and hazard pay.
Yap said his proposal would also ensure the government will be able to collect a larger share of income from those who can afford to pay more.
“For both objectives, no additional financial burden is needed to be imposed on employers. Effectively, the income tax reform will create a more equitable and just tax system for a majority of Filipino taxpayers while ensuring the government is still able to raise revenues for its important programs,” said Yap, former agriculture secretary.
Likewise, Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco’s HB Number 411 would exempt those earning P30,000 and below from paying the income tax. The rates for low-income and middle-income earners would also be adjusted.
“Accordingly, low-income and middle-income earners, most of whom are salaried workers, suffer and bear the bulk of the iniquitous tax burden among individual taypayers. The tax burden heavily impact on their purchasing power,” said Tiangco.
In his SONA, Duterte vowed to lower personal income and corporate taxes, to the delight of the crowd who watched him inside the Batasang Pambansa.
Amending the Anti-Money Laundering Law
Following the Bangladesh bank heist in February 2016, Senator Panfilo Lacson filed SB Number 45 to expand the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act to include casinos, real estate brokers, and art and car dealers. (READ: TIMELINE: Tracing the $81-million stolen fund from Bangladesh Bank)
“While the contributions of the [casino] industry are acknowledged, it is also understood that casinos are equally exposed to the raging threats of money laundering,” Lacson said.
Under his bill, the authority to issue ex parte freeze orders on questionable transactions and accounts would be transferred from the Court of Appeals to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). It will then have authority to issue subpoenas and administer oath in aid of probes and other compliance-checking functions.
SB Number 45 would also expand the covered transactions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act to include amounts of more than P500,000 in one banking day, and more than P150,000 in one gaming day for casinos.
Legalization of marijuana
Duterte previously said he does not oppose the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes but he is against its use for recreation.
“Medical marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine now,” the President said in May.
This was why Isabela 1st District Representative Rodolfo Albano III refiled HB Number 180 or the “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.”
“Potential medical effects based on clinical trials include prevention of cancer from spreading, management of anxiety, slowed progression of Alzheimer’s disease and control of muscle spasms and tremors. Cannabis use in children with epilepsy and seizure disorders have been shown to be effective without the deleterious side effects of anti-epileptic medications,” explained Albano.
He said, however, that his bill would not advocate, authorize, promote, nor provide measures that would make the intake of marijuana for non-medical use legally or socially acceptable.
“For this reason, the bill provides for control measures and regulation on the medical use of cannabis to ensure patient’s safety and for effective and efficient implementation of the Act,” said Albano.
Amending the political party system
Turncoatism, when a politician abandons his or her political party to join another, is a perrenial issue in Philippine politics due to a lack, if not an absence, of a real political system in the country.
For example, a good number of lawmakers in the House jumped ship to Duterte's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, after Duterte's victory, increasing the party's members from 3 in the 16th Congress to 100 in the 17th Congress.
To stop this phenomenon, Drilon once again filed SB Number 226 or the “Political Party System” to promote “party loyalty, discipline, and adherence to ideological principles, platforms, and programs.”
The bill would primarily penalize political turncoats by barring them to run under any politcal party for any elective position in the next elections should they change party affiliations.
They would also have to refund any amounts they received from their political party, including a 25% surcharge.
“Political parties in our country are normally used as political vehicles to win an election. Political party system is centered on personalities rather than ideology and political platform,” Drilon said.
“Political turncoatism should never be encouraged nor tolerated,” he added.
Should this bill be passed into law, a state subsidy fund would be created to augment campaign expenditures as well as party development expenses.
“The funds can be used to augment the operating funds of the accredited national political parties for party development, which include, among others, party administration and recruitment, research and policy development, and education and training of members,” said Drilon. – Rappler.com
$1 = P47.09
Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @maracepeda.