By Camille A. Aguinaldo Reporter
and Charmaine A. Tadalan
CONGRESS BEGINS its Third Regular Session on Monday, with the Senate set to coordinate its priority bills with the House of Representatives, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said on Sunday.
House leaders for their part said they expect to tackle the draft federal charter to be transmitted to the chamber on Monday, as well as the 2019 national budget and the draft Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that President Rodrigo R. Duterte is expected to sign before his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments said the next step for charter change will be planned around Mr. Duterte’s SONA. “Let us hear the SONA first,” committee chair Roger G. Mercado said in a text message Saturday.
Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn F. Garcia said last week the House leadership will have to revisit its timetable to accommodate hearings on the General Appropriations Act of 2019 and on the planned shift toward federalism.
Ms. Garcia said the draft Federal Constitution submitted by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) on charter change will be “harmonized” with the constitution the House panel has been drafting.
“We need to deliberate on the draft constitution presented by ConCom vis-a-vis (the) draft constitution that has already been prepared by the House. In the second regular session, the Committee on Constitutional Amendment has also been very busy with the draft constitution,” Ms. Garcia told BusinessWorld in a phone interview, Sunday.
The Senate and the House have been at odds over charter change, with the senators rejecting a proposal by House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez to postpone the 2019 midterm elections to allow time for charter change. Earlier this year, the two chambers disagreed as well on whether to vote jointly or separately in proposing amendments to the Constitution as a constituent assembly.
Mr. Sotto, when sought for comment, said in a text message, “We have yet to finalize the priority list after we meet and after we meet House counterparts.”
Also sought for comment, University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Antonio G.M. La Viña said in a text message: “This should be a concern for the administration. There is no appetite in the senate for Charter change and there is no popular pressure on them to convert into a constituent assembly.”
“The two Houses of Congress, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, are East and West and ‘never the twain shall meet.’ I suspect that one will have to give in or will be deceived or forced to give in,” he added.
Mr. Sotto said his colleagues will discuss this week the proposed Federal Constitution, which was formally submitted by the ConCom to the Senate on July 12.
The Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, headed by Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, will also hold a meeting on Wednesday, July 25, to tackle updates on its public hearings. The committee will then tackle the matter of whether to proceed or not with charter change, and also whether to recommend a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly.
Mr. Sotto said his colleagues will hold a caucus on Tuesday to identify the Senate’s legislative agenda.
He added that the senators have been also asked to submit priority bills for consideration by the whole body. This would be compared with the priority measures of the House and of the Executive branch, which Mr. Duterte is expected to submit to Congress on Monday.
Also sought for comment, Representative Dakila Carlo E. Cua, who heads the House ways and means committee, said “fiscal incentives (and) corporate income tax” are among his committee’s priorities, along with the “(tax) amnesty.”
The House committee on energy, together with the committee on government reorganization, will discuss bills proposing to abolish the Energy Regulatory Commission and creating in its place the Board of Energy, which shall be an attached agency of the Department of Energy.
On expectations regarding the Mr. Duterte’s third report to the nation, advocacy group Social Watch Philippines (SWP) said it hopes Mr. Duterte will cite the Universal Health Care bill and the Budget Reform Bill.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a statement: “I hope President Duterte will outline in detail the government’s concrete plan-of-action to shield poor Filipino families from the rising prices of basic commodities, especially food.”
Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara said he expects Mr. Duterte to push for the passage of proposed measures on universal healthcare, salary increases of teachers, and job generation.
In a radio interview, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said he wanted to hear solutions on how to address poverty and also the peace and order situation in the country.
Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV said the President should suspend the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law and withdraw excise taxes on petroleum products.
In her statement, Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, disputing Malacañang’s portrayal of Mr. Duterte as the “father of the nation,” said, “What kind of father directed the killing of thousands of his children and likened it to the Holocaust with pride?… What kind of a ‘father of the nation’ is President Duterte, when he failed to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of China’s unmasked bullying and militarization in the West Philippine Sea? Given his subservience, is it more apt to call him the ‘foster son of China?’”
“On the contrary, President Duterte is an abusive father,” the senator said.