THE SENATE majority hopes to approve on third reading by August two priority economic measures that will ease restrictions on foreign investors.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a Viber message that the chamber will prioritize Senate Bill (SB) No. 2094, which proposes to amend the Public Service Act (PSA) and SB 1156 which will do the same to the Foreign Investments Act (FIA) when session resumes. Congress will return on July 26.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said the leadership plans to get the measures passed on third reading in August.

“The Senate will prioritize these measures when we get back. Our timeline is third reading by August. We’re just slightly delayed as of the moment,” he told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

The two economic bills were identified as priority measures by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council to be passed before the Congress adjourned sine die on June 4. These were also certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, allowing them to skip the waiting period between second and third readings.

The Senate, however, was not able to pass the measures when it sat between May 17 and June 4.

“The last three weeks were truly too short to discuss and debate intelligently these very complicated and difficult measures which seek to open up our industries to foreign entities,” Mr. Zubiri said. “Especially in a time when Filipinos resent the bullying and takeover of foreign interests on different fronts.”

“Safeguards must be put in place that should always (ensure) the best interests of the country. It’s not as easy as (saying) ‘finished or not finished, please pass your paper,’” he added.

SB 2094 will open some public services to foreign ownership such as transportation and telecommunications. It restricts the definition of public utility to the distribution of electricity, transmission of electricity, and water pipeline distribution systems and sewerage pipelines.

Meanwhile, the bill that will amend the Foreign Investment Act lowers the number of workers foreign firms need to directly employ to 15 from 50.

The two bills were both awaiting second reading. The House of Representatives approved the amendments to PSA in March last year and the FIA amendments in September 2019.

The Senate last month approved on third and final reading the bill which sought to amend to Retail Trade Liberalization Act. The measure had also been certified as urgent and a priority measure.

Dennis C. Coronacion, head of the political science department at the University of Santo Tomas, said the Senate should speed up the passing of bills certified as urgent.

“But it doesn’t mean that the Senate should pass a half-baked law,” he said via Messenger.

Mr. Coronacion said how the Senate processes proposed law is not influenced by an urgent certification, adding that the Constitution provides the President a way to “encourage our legislators to enact a law that is badly needed due to a public calamity or emergency.”

“As the chief executive, the President is well aware of the needs of his countrymen and is given the power to tell which laws are badly needed,” he said, adding that even if certain maneuvers are legal and constitutional, “you cannot remove politics from the picture.”

Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines, said both the Senate and the House of Representative act in different ways and their input must be respected as they “represent a co-equal branch” of government. 

“They can also draft their own legislative agenda and priorities. They should also exercise due diligence in scrutinizing bills before passing them,” she said in an e-mail.

Ms. Atienza also said that the Senate, while filled with “so-called allies” of the President, also follows its own priorities. She noted that the chamber, which represents the whole nation and not specific districts or sectors, has also acted on a number of administration priority bills.

“Many of the senators also aspire for higher positions and are conscious of how they are perceived publicly. Thus, it is the tradition in the Senate to act beyond simple partisan politics when there is enough public pressure to act decisively on certain issues and bills and to scrutinize bills,” she said.

She said the President acts as the “number one lobbyist” through the State of the Nation Address. 

However, priority bills should be sponsored by his allies in the Congress. If his allies in the Senate do not prioritize the bills… “some bills certified as urgent cannot move,” Ms. Atienza said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas