The first year of the Duterte administration is nothing but interesting. President Rodrigo Duterte enjoys extreme popularity with record-high satisfaction surveys and sweeping support in both houses of the Congress. This would mean that the legislative agenda of the administration should breeze through the esteemed halls of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation Address in front of a Congress that only passed four bills into law (see infographic). Congress seemed more occupied with investigations in aid of legislation such as Martial Law in Marawi, extrajudicial killings, and Senator Leila de Lima’s association to the illegal drug sale in Bilibid Prison.
This is not new in the Philippines. Many important laws take a few congresses to pass; some even do not pass during the administration of those who proposed it. Legislation in the Philippines is designed to be slow. Imagine that a single proposed measure must to go through three readings in both houses of Congress—more than 300 legislators reading, researching, and deliberating—that must certainly take some time.
This characteristic of Philippine lawmaking is aimed at making sure that everything has been ironed out before a law is enacted, especially because these laws will affect the lives of millions of Filipinos.
LEGISLATING AMIDST CHALLENGES
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez admits to these challenges of legislation in the first year of the Duterte administration. In the opening of the second regular session of the House of Representatives last July 24, he delivered a speech marking the end of the first year of their work as legislators. He highlights that they have passed 210 legislative measures on the third reading, or an average of two bills per session day.
He also mentioned the 2017 budget that was passed in record time, the return of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, and the tax reform bill, which is now on the third reading, as of press time.
But he admits much is to be done, and notes that their work with the Senate has been productive, after they have agreed to a common legislative agenda of Congress, identifying 40 nationally important bills that needed to be tackled by both houses.
One of the priorities elaborated by Speaker Alvarez in his speech is to focus on legislation that concerns the family. A law to allow the dissolution of marriage without the need for an extensively adversarial system will empower married persons to “mutually agree to end their marriage subject to the approval of the Court.”
Another law that the Speaker alludes to in his speech will allow the legal recognition and protection of Civil Partnerships, because “citizens should not be excluded from society just because of the person they love.” Both these proposed measures will surely pass through the eye of a needle before they become laws, seeing that these measures will certainly provoke the Catholic Church, a sector so rabidly against any measure that could lead to the legalization of divorce or gay marriage.
The shift from a unitary to a federal form of government is one of the key priorities in the legislative agenda of the 17th Congress.
Another priority area Alvarez highlights in his speech is the reorganization of the government bureaucracy. He admits that the regulatory framework of the government is mired in chaos, overlaps, and conflicts. Some of the reorganization measures he identified are the merging of Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) into the Land Transportation Authority (LTA), the creation of a Philippine Railways Authority, and the Philippine Airports Authority.
The final priority area he emphasizes in his speech is peace and prosperity, of which he identifies two important legislative measures. One is the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the basis for creating a homeland for the Bangsamoro, which has languished in Congress in the previous administration. The second measure is a law that will pave the way for the shift from a unitary to a federal form of government, echoing one of Duterte’s key campaign promises in the previous elections.
The legislative agenda for the second regular session of the 17th Congress reads like an impossible wish list that even a united Congress could only dream of achieving. But with only four laws passed on their first year, the Congress will have to work harder this second regular session. – LEE CANDELARIA