Senate priorities in final leg of 18th Congress: Ten bills, probe of 'troll farms'

Published July 25, 2021, 1:43 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Senate will work for the passage of at least 10 priority measures as it buckles down to work for the 3rd Regular Sessions of the 18th Congress, starting Monday, July 26.

Senators are also keen on starting its independent probe into the alleged proliferation of state-funded “troll farms” throughout the country to discredit critics of the administration and potential political opponents in the May 2022 national and local elections.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Upper Chamber can decide on the matter regarding the “troll farm” probe on Tuesday, a day after President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) and discuss whether Senate Resolution No. 768 should be taken up by the Committee of the Whole.

At least 12 senators signed the resolution which seeks to dig deeper into why the government spends public funds on troll farm operators “disguised as public relations practitioners” and “social media consultants.”

“I will encourage the chairman (of the committee) if this will be referred to in the Committee of the Whole, and I have the mandate, then I will schedule it right away,” Sotto said during virtual interview.

The Senate leader said among the government agencies that would be invited to the investigation would be the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and other related agencies.

He also said the Upper Chamber will likely invite Facebook and other resource persons from the private sector.

“Most probably, we will be inviting the Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and also the cybercrime division of the Philippine National Police (PNP),” Sotto said.

Also, upon resumption of their regular sessions, the Senate will pursue the passage of 10 priority measures namely : the Amendments to the Foreign Investment Act (FIA), Amendments to the Public Service ACt (PSA), Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), the proposed Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, Package 4 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP) or the Passive Income Tax and Financial Intermediary Tax Act (PIFITA), Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP), Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act (Agri-Agra) and Package 3 of the CTRP or the Valuation Reform Bill.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri said the Senate will also resume deliberations on certain bills still pending in the Upper Chamber, namely: the bill seeking the Modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Increasing the Age of Statutory Rape, the proposed Military and Uniformed Personnel Insurance Fund Act, Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Act, and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Extension Law.

Zubiri said it is also possible that the Senate will tackle the proposed Bayanihan 3 bill or the economic recovery measure to augment the government’s COVID-19 response programs.

Due to persistent threat of the COVID-19 and the possible spread of the Delta variant, the Senate will continue holding hybrid sessions. Visitors and guests will not be allowed inside the Senate premises in accordance to health protocols and regulations.

Sotto said the Senate has not yet passed any measure overtaking its earlier resolution allowing members of the chamber to attend sessions virtually.

Though about 90 percent of the Senate employees are already fully vaccinated, the upper chamber is keen on maintaining the number of its workers entering the premises to a 50 to 60 percent level.

“Everybody has to be very careful because we are not yet super safe,” Sotto said during a virtual press conference.

At the resumption of Congress 3rd Regular on Monday, Sotto and seven other senators will join other lawmakers at the House of Representatives to attend President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA).