Education, fiscal bills top Senate agenda

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

ROCKED by controversies over the past year, the Senate will begin the second regular session of the 16th Congress on Monday by trying to restore the people's faith in the institution.

"Amid the issues that confront us, we have persevered and continued to discharge our duties to the Republic, with our commitments and vows to the people serving as the guiding light on the road to recovery and redemption,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said Sunday.

The 24-member Senate had approved more than 19 bills and 41 resolutions during the first regular session. It had also concurred in the ratification of three international treaties and adopted 44 resolutions.


The Senate committees, subcommittees and joint congressional oversight committees had conducted 352 public hearings and technical working group meetings on 806 bills.

But these developments had been overshadowed by the implication of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. in the corruption of billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and allegation that majority in the Senate received more than P50 million in additional funds through the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) for ousting former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

Enrile, Estrada and Revilla will not be around when the Senate opens its session at 10 a.m. as they are currently detained while on trial for plunder and graft at the Sandiganbayan.

Enrile and Estrada have been preventively suspended for 90 days by the court to keep them from influencing the prosecution of the cases. The decision though can still be appealed.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago will also miss the session opening because of her ongoing battle against lung cancer.

After the session, the senators will proceed to the House of Representatives in the afternoon for a joint session of Congress to hear President Benigno Aquino III's fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona).

As it resumes working on priority bills, Drilon said the Senate “must not lose sight of our ultimate goal, which is to provide a better life for each Filipino; a life that is not wanting in choices and opportunities.”

Up for third and final reading are four bills that will increase and democratize access to education.

These are Senate Bill (SBN) 2274, which seeks to expand access to education through open learning and distance education in tertiary levels of education; SBN 2272, which aims to strengthen the ladderized interface between technical-vocational education and training and higher education; SBN 2212, which promotes entrepreneurship and financial education among the Filipino youth; and SBN 2275 or the proposed Iskolar ng Bayan Act, which mandates all state colleges and universities to annually confer automatic admission and provide scholarship grants to the top 10 public high school students of their graduating class.

The Senate will also approve on final reading Senate Bill 1647, which would repeal Article 351 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes a woman who marries within 301 days from the time of her husband’s death or her marriage’s dissolution, or who marries before delivering a child from her previous marriage.

Plenary debates are expected on the competition bill and Senate Joint Resolution 2 and Senate Bill 480, which aim to increase the subsistence and quarterly allowances of military and police personnel.

“We will also work to extend Philhealth coverage to senior citizens and increase the tax exemption ceiling of the 13th month pay for Christmas bonuses and other benefits for public workers from P30,000 to P75,000 so our workers can go home during the holidays without having to worry about decreases in their bonuses," Drilon said.

He said the Senate will immediately act on the Bangsamoro Basic Law as soon as the draft bill is submitted to Congress while the proposal to amend the economic provision in the Constitution to improve the country's ability to invite foreign direct investments will depend on the House action on the matter. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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