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Congress closes, passing ‘nothing’

LAWMAKERS adjourned  Wednesday  night without passing the Palace-backed Bangsamoro Basic Law  and were heckled by angry senior citizens for doing nothing to reverse President Benigno Aquino III’s veto of a bill that would have raised Social Security System  pensions by P2,000 a month.

At 7:40 p.m., presiding officer and Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla closed the session after a two-hour lull in the session hall, without lawmakers failing to tackle any measure listed on the day’s order of business—including the pension hike bill.

The author of the bill, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares stood to speak, but his voice was cut off as the technician turned off his microphone.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.org
Before he was cut off, he managed to say: “This Congress should listen to the historic override of the veto. The people need Congress to convene; there is quorum, we counted 213 congressmen on the floor.”

Senior citizens in the gallery shouted at the lawmakers for failing to act on the veto.

“Why can’t you give us the P2,000? We need this! You don’t care because all of you are rich!” one elderly man said.

Colmenares expected that the House would tackle his resolution overriding the President’s veto after gathering 50 signatories.

But House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the House moved to abruptly adjourn the session to preempt a “circus” as a result of Colmenares’ resolution.

Gonzales said there is no way that Congress could override the veto because the Colmenares resolution lacked support from congressmen.

To override a presidential veto, a two-third vote is needed from senators and congressmen. In the House, that means 194 of the 287 members.

In the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the administratin for ignoring the pleas of senior citizens after the House squelched efforts to override the President’s veto.

Representatives of senior citizens groups trooped  Wednesday  to the administration-dominated House to press lawmakers for the override but the chamber adjourned abruptly without giving proponents of the override a chance to speak.

“That added insult to injury. I respect the prerogative of the House leadership but I think it would have been a lot better if the proponents of the override were at least given a chance to speak out,” said Marcos.

“It’s clear that the fate of the SSS pension hike bill was decided in accordance with the administration’s position on this issue,” he added.

Malacañang had warned that if the P2,000 pension hike is implemented the SSS would be bankrupt by year 2027 and insisted that the veto of the proposal is necessary to prevent the collapse of the agency.

Marcos backed moves in the Senate to override the veto on the SSS pension hike bill. However, the move to override must come from the House of Representatives where the bill originated.

The House also failed to start the period of amendments to the BBL, which was supposed to be approved on second reading during the last session day.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had earlier given up hope on passing the BBL under the 16th  Congress.

Congress will adjourn on  May 23  after the  May 10  elections to sit as the National Board of Canvassers for the canvassing of votes of the candidates for president and vice president. It will then proclaim the winners.

Other measure that failed to pass during the 16th  Congress were the freedom of information bill, anti-political dynasty bills, and a bill to enable Congress to change economic provisions of the Constitution.

The FOI bill, which aims to achieve greater transparency in government, was a campaign promise of President Aquino, but the measure did not get his support after he took office.

Bills to ban political dynasties ran up against opposition from lawmakers themselves, whose relatives would be barred from holding office.

The anti-political dynasty measures seek to limit to two the family members that can be elected to positions at the national and local levels at the same time.

Belmonte’s resolution to amend the Constitution by legislation also did not gain support.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, said his colleagues passed mostly local bills with no national impact, and were done “in aid of election politics.”

“We have not heard any substantial legislation that protects the nation...the people,” Enrile said at the Kapihan sa Senado forum.

He also criticized his colleagues for being late. When the chamber adjourned  Wednesday  night, there were only seven senators, he said.

“We’re supposed to hold sessions at  3:00  o’clock. Why do we get there at  3:30? And then after the roll call, no more senators,” Enrile said.

Aside from Enrile, only six other senators stayed in the Session Hall until adjournment: Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senators Pia Cayetano, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Aquilino Pimentel III, JV Ejercito, and Nancy Binay.

“The rest were gone. Why?” Enrile said.

Earlier in the day, Drilon spelled out the accomplishments of the Senate under his watch, saying they passed on third reading 284 bills, 116 of which became laws, and 59 of which are pending the President’s approval.

Drilon also said four bicameral reports are pending in the House of Representatives for ratification and seven more in the bicameral are being discussed.

“We can really show that we did our share in opening up the economy to provide a better environment for investments and to create jobs. Many of the laws that we passed languished in the legislative mill for years,” said Drilon.

Among these are the Philippine Competition Act, which had been pending in Congress for many years, as well as the amendment to the Cabotage law, and a law which allowed full entry of foreign banks.

Drilon did not mention the P2,000 pension hike that was vetoed by the President.

Instead, he talked of three opposition senators—including Enrile—who were jailed on plunder charges.

“Never in the history of the Senate [have] three of its members [been] hailed before the court and jailed on charges of corruption: two are still in jail and one is on bail,” he said.

“The history of the Senate will show that it is the first time it happened. The history of the Senate showed how the chamber became the battleground of many political battles. The vice president was subjected to intense investigation. The pork barrel issue occupied our time. The Mamasapano hearing was very emotionally charged investigation,” he said.

He said the biggest reform the Senate supported was the aboliton of pork barrel even before the Supreme Court declared it as unconstitutional.

“That is on record. I think this is the first Congress where the Senate president was invited to appear before the Blue Ribbon committee.

“Also, we note that this Senate has, probably for the first time, six of its members are running for president and vice president.”

Amid all the controversies, he said the Senate was able to recover and regain the people’s trust and confidence. “We did not break or implode as some of our critics predicted,” he said. “We heeded the people’s clamor to have the pork barrel abolished.”

A member of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House blamed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for the failure of Congress to pass a law granting a new round of salary increases for state workers before it goes on a four-month recess.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio blasted Trillanes for leaving the country in the midst of a deadlock between the chambers of Congress on the final version of the pay hike bill and as the legislature was counting down the days before going on an extended break due to the upcoming national and local elections.

Trillanes reportedly left for the United States “on an official mission” last week.

Tinio said Trillanes, as the chairman of the Senate civil service committee, should have attended to the bill first before leaving the country.

“What sort of elected official goes on a trip abroad in the middle of contentious bicameral talks, making it virtually impossible for Congress to pass the bill before the recess?” Tinio asked.

“This is gross dereliction of duty on his part. His twisted priorities and self-indulgence means that 1.5 million government employees will not receive the salary hikes and bonuses that they desperately need,” Tinio said.

Topics: Congress , PNoy
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