By Ellson Quismorio
A House leader has called out the Senate for allegedly sitting on vital pieces of legislation just days before the start of the third regular session of the 17th Congress.
Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers in a statement Wednesday reckoned that “achieving true progress means that the Senate should pass timely and crucial legislations like the Death Penalty Law for drug-related crimes and other important legislations that have passed the scrutiny of the House but are gathering dust in the Senate.”
Barbers chairs the Committee on Dangerous Drugs and is a key ally of the administration coalition in the House of Representatives.
His observation is not unlike the one made months ago by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who described the Senate as the “Mabagal na Kapulungan” or “Slow Chamber.” This public tirade by Alvarez arguably led to the ouster of Aquilino Pimentel III as Senator President for failing to give a stern response.
In the Philippines’ Bicameral legislature, a measure from the House (also called the “Lower Chamber”) must have a counterpart measure in the Senate (“Upper Chamber”) for it to prosper. The two versions of the measure are then consolidated, ratified, and readied for the President’s signature.
Among the measures that have been left hanging at the Senate after their third and final reading approval at the House level are the Budget Reform Bill and the Universal Health Coverage Bill.
The third regular session will begin on July 23, the day that President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) at Batasan Complex, home of the congressmen.
Work, work, work
Lawmakers have their work cut for them as they are expected to further discussions on Charter Change (Cha-Cha)–a contentious issue–and the 2019 national budget, among other things. Next year is also an election year, meaning the solons will also have to worry about keeping their respective posts.
Barbers, in the same statement, proposed changes to the legislative calendar in order to help House members cope with their expected grueling schedule in the coming months.
To fast track legislative work, Barbers is proposing to have sessions six times a week for the first three weeks of the month, followed by a respite of one full week.
“I propose to have Monday to Saturday sessions, three weeks in a month, straight, with one week break to allow the representatives to go home to their respective districts,” the Mindanao congressman said.
Under the current system, lawmakers from both chambers attend sessions from Monday to Wednesday only for each given week.
“Wala munang aalis ng bansa (Nobody leaves the country) until December this year until we finish all these legislations,” Barbers said.