Senate adjourns for summer break

After 10 weeks of intensive legislative work, the Senate adjourned its session Wednesday night, March 15, to go on a legislative break. Regular sessions will resume on May 2, 2017.

The adjournment came within the same week the Senate approved on third reading two landmark bills – Affordable Higher Education for All Act (SBN 1304) and the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (SBN 1277) – and unanimously gave its concurrence in the accession to the Paris Agreement.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the institution had “been working overtime” to fast-track the enactment of laws that would improve the lives of Filipinos and address their most pressing concerns.

“We have been making the most out of our time to fulfill our mandate and push for measures that will lay the basis for the development and progress of our country and people,” he said.

He said that so far, the Senate of the 17th Congress had passed on third reading nine bills, and adopted 42 resolutions, more notable of which were resolutions giving its concurrence to international agreements – the Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Adopted Resolution No.33), RP-Japan Agreement on Social Security (Adopted Resolution No.38), and the Paris Agreement (Adopted Resolution No.42).

Landmark bills passed

Pimentel said the Senate’s legislative achievements so far “revolved around reforms that promoted better access to quality education and social justice, produced jobs, and ensured peace and security, among others.”

This year alone, Pimentel said the Senate passed the Affordable Higher Education for All Act (SBN 1304), which would provide tuition subsidy and financial assistance to students enrolled in state universities and colleges, private higher education institutions, and technical vocational institutions; and the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (SBN 1277), which mandated the establishment of necessary infrastructure and equipment to give Filipinos free internet access in public places.

Another landmark bill approved by the Senate is the Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2017 (SBN 1305), which would increase the maternity leave available for working mothers from 60 to 120 days, among others.

To help the Philippine National Police (PNP) improve its crime-fighting ability, the Senate has passed SBN 1239, the measure would grant the Chief of the PNP and the Director and Deputy-Director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) the authority to administer oath and to issue subpoena duces tecum.

The Senate also approved the proposed Philippine Food Technology Act of 2016 (SBN 1269), which would provide for the registration, licensure, and practice of food technology in the Philippines; and the proposed Speech Language Pathology Act of 2016 (SBN 462) which would regulate the practice of speech language pathology in the Philippines.

The Senate also extended the franchises of Smart Communications Inc. (HBN 4637) and GMA Network Inc. (HBN 4631) for another 25 years.

It also approved a bill (SBN 209) declaring August 25 of every year as “National Technical-Vocational Day,” to promote technical and vocational education and training in the country.

The Senate also passed on second reading the Mental Health Act of 2017 (SBN 1354), which would establish a national mental health policy for the purpose of enhancing the delivery of integrated mental health services.”

A bill adjusting the amount involved, value of property or damage on which a penalty is based, and the fines under the Revised Penal Code, as amended (SBN 14), and the Philippine Innovation Act (SBN 1355), which adopted innovation as a vital component of national policies for inclusive development, were approved on second reading.

Up next: Federalism, tax reform, others

Pimentel said the drive for federalism remained the highest priority for the Senate once both Houses of Congress resume session in May.

“We will continue to push for the legislative mechanism which will start the process of shifting to a federal government, in order to bring solutions to some of the country’s most long-standing ills and problems,” he said.

Pimentel said the Senate was “very eager” to resume its work, with at least 20 bills already in advanced stages of legislation, such as the proposed People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2016 (SBN 1208), the proposed Expanded Anti-Wire Tapping Act of 2016 (SBN 1210), the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (SBN 1256), the proposed Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act (SBN 1284), the proposed Corporation Code of the Philippines (SBN 1280), the proposed Ease of Doing Business Act of 2017 (SBN 1311), the proposed Teachers’ Supply Allowance Act of 2016 (SBN 812), the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act (SBN 1233), the proposed Pagkaing Pinoy Para sa Batang Pinoy Act (SBN 1279), and the bill increasing the penalties for the refusal of hospitals and medical clinics to administer appropriate initial medical treatment and support to emergency or serious cases (SBN 1353).

“We will also prioritize bills meant to end contractualization, impose stiffer penalties to violators of minimum wage laws, implement a “one-town, one doctor” policy, and enable free irrigation services – all of which are meant to help the most vulnerable sectors of our society,” he said.

The Senate leader said the proposed income tax reform will likewise be a high priority of the Senate, with personal income tax relief as his “personal advocacy.”

Pimentel said the Senate would devote its time and resources to the passage of the pending priority legislation.

“Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to deliver on the promise of positive change to the people. We, in the Senate, are up to the challenge. We will not fail the people,” he said. ###