THE 17th Congress is poised to make history, not only as it considers legislation to restore the death penalty, but also as it debates the adoption of a federal form of government that may see the eventual abolition of the legislature as we know it.
The House of Representatives finished 2016 with the passage of several contentious laws and conducted a number of hearings on controversial issues—ostensibly in aid of legislation.
Proposed measures such as Charter change, freedom of information, and same sex union were among controversial measures that had been filed before, and were refiled in 2016.
Whereas the 16th Congress under the stewardship of then Speaker Feliciano Belmonte focused on the ill-fated Bangsamoro Basic Law, the allies of President Rodrigo Duterte have chosen to focus on his drive for federalism.
As the 16th Congress drew to a close, the BBL was doomed, weighed down by legal infirmities and the Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos that touched off a firestorm of anger against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Aquino administration’s main partner in peace talks.
Proposed FOI legislation also failed to pass under the previous administration as members of the 16th Congress became preoccupied with the May elections.
In his first State-of-the-Nation Address before the new Congress, President Duterte sought the help of Congress in his war on illegal drugs and in his push to institute a federal form of government.
Under the leadership of his political ally Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Congress has made it a priority to restore the death penalty, lower the age of criminal liability and adopt a federal system.
Alvarez said the first three years of the 17th Congress under the Duterte administration will be devoted to passing these measures.
In line with the war on drugs, the House, through the House Committee on Justice chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali launched an investigation into the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison to exact accountability on Senator Leila de Lima, who was Justice secretary when the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary flourished.
As 2016 closes, Alvarez said the House, under his stewardship, approved 63 measures in only 56 session days.
The number of measures processed by the House totaled 321, broken down as follows: 63 bills passed; 201 referred resolutions on inquiries; 53 measures substituted or consolidated; and four measures in the calendar of business. This means an average six measures were processed per session day. During the same period, the House produced 46 committee reports.
The committee on rules, chaired by Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, said since the 17th Congress convened in July this year, the House Bills and Index Division received a total of 6,029 measures, comprising of 5,360 bills and 669 resolutions.
The breakdown of the 63 measures approved: 18 bills passed on third and final reading; 11 bills approved on second reading; one bill enacted into law (Republic Act No.10923); one ratified bicameral conference committee report (House Bill 3408 or the 2017 General Appropriations Act); and 32 adopted resolutions.
The GAA provides for a P3.35-trillion national budget for next year. According to President Duterte, the 2017 national budget, the first spending plan of his administration, embodies the people’s clamor for real change and a compassionate government.
House Bill 3504 jointly authored by Alvarez, Fariñas and Minority Floor Leader Danilo Suarez was signed into law as RA 10923 on Oct.15, 2016. The law postponed this year’s Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to the fourth Monday of October 2017. Of the 18 bills approved on third reading, nine are of local significance while nine others are of national significance.
In his acceptance speech during the opening of the 17th Congress in July, the Speaker enjoined House members to “be instruments of change.”
“Our mission, in this 17th Congress, is clear: to enact laws that will deliver to our nation and our peoples a future better than yesterday’s and brighter than today’s,” Alvarez said.
Toward the end of the year, he expressed optimism for the days ahead.
In September, the Social Weather Stations reported that based on its third quarter survey, the House of Representatives garnered a “good” +38 net satisfaction rating, with 53 percent satisfied and 14 percent dissatisfied.
The SWS said that in comparison with initial ratings in the past administrations, the House under the stewardship of Alvarez scored the highest initial net satisfaction rating.
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