As the clock ticks on the final 11 months of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, his allies in Congress can only boast of passing 15 out the 47 priority measures he enumerated in his past 5 State of the Nation Addresses (SONA).
A review of legislative records from the House of Representatives and the Senate by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group showed that of the 47 priority measures Duterte mentioned in annual reports to the nation from 2016 to 2020, 22 were brought up before the 17th Congress from 2016 to 2019.
Of these, 13 were in 2016, 5 in 2017 and 4 in 2018. Meanwhile, 25 were raised before the incumbent 18th Congress, which began in 2019 and will end alongside the President’s term in 2022. Of the 25, 12 were mentioned in the 2019 SONA while 13 were mentioned in last year’s SONA.
The President signed all 15 priority measures which became law: 6 during the 17th Congress and 9 during the 18th Congress.
These include the following measures:
- Extension of the validity of the driver's license and passport
- Comprehensive reforms in income and corporate taxation
- The Universal Health Care Act
- The Bangsamoro law
- The rice tariffication law
- The Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act
- The law raising sin taxes
- The law raising salaries of government workers
- The Bayanihan emergency laws on COVID-19 response
One measure, the Security of Tenure bill, identified as a priority in the 2018 SONA to end labor-only contracting or “endo,” was however vetoed, with the President saying that the “sweeping expansion of the definition of labor-only contracting” in the proposed measure “destroys the delicate balance” between the “conflicting interests of labor and management.”
The vast majority however, remain unfinished business in various stages of legislation.
A total of 32 priority measures are still pending, according to the Legislative Information Systems of the two chambers.
Below are their respective status as of June 30, 2021:
For Bicameral Conference Committee deliberations
The House already agreed on the Conference Committee Report on the proposal to modernize the Bureau of Fire Protection. However, the Senate did not ratify this report.
Approved on Third Reading by the House of Representatives
The House transmitted 9 bills to the Senate. However, 8 Senate counterpart bills are still pending in the Committee, while 1 is up for second reading as of June 30.
[B] Approved on Second Reading by the House of Representatives
The House approved on second reading the bill that will create a National Disease Prevention and Management Authority. However, its counterpart bill is still pending at the committee level in the Senate.
Pending at the Committee Level
Seventeen bills were tagged as pending at the committee level in the House. Of their Senate counterpart bills, 1 is pending second reading and 14 are pending at the committee level.
Another proposal, Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 calling for a Constituent Assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution, is pending at the committee level in the Senate.
Several bills proposing various amendments to the Government Procurement Reform Act are also pending at the committee level in the Senate.
Tagged as “Business for the day” or Unfinished Business (Period of Sponsorship)” in the House
Two bills were tagged as “Business for the day,” while two other bills were tagged as “Unfinished Business (Period of Sponsorship).” Their Senate counterparts were all tagged “Pending in the Committee.”
Congressional leaders, meanwhile, stand by their track record of meeting the President’s legislative wish list.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said: “I cannot say excellent because there are other measures that have not passed, but considering the number of controversial measures we were able to pass, I think I could say it was very good.”
Sotto however recalls that when lawmakers started working on the President’s priorities in 2016, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) listed more measures than the President’s SONA commitments.
“If you want me to give you a background, when we started the Congress in 2016 the PLLO listed 55 priority bills of the president, including charter change," he said.
Lawmakers had their own agenda: 39 priorities from the 2 chambers. Both sides then had to find common ground to begin their work, among other things.
“We put it together, the proposal of the president through the PLLO, then the priority measures of the congressmen and the senators, we identified 28 common legislative agenda. It doesn’t preclude us from passing any of the other bills, the pet bills, other agenda of the senators but the common legislative agenda was 28, it included the priorities of the president and the priorities of Congress,” Sotto said.
“For the 18th Congress, 17th Congress 'yun eh that means from 2016 to 2019. Then from 2019 to the present, a total 30 priority measures. Now out of this 28, 13 were enacted into law, one was vetoed, the coco levy fund was vetoed, but 13 out of 38. Looking back at the other congresses that I was in is, quite good," the Senate leader said.
The 13 measures Sotto was referring to are the following:
- The Unified National Identification System
- The National Mental Health Act
- The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act
- Law on the utilization of the coconut levy fund
- Tax reform for acceleration and inclusion
- The Balik Scientist Program
- The Philippine Qualifications Framework
- Amendments to the Agricultural Tariffication Act
- The Free Irrigation Service Act
- Social Security Act Amendments
- The Free Higher Education Act
- The Ease of Doing Business Act
- The Universal Health Care Act
Sotto’s office said that for the 18th Congress, the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) came up with 30 priority measures, of which 5 have become law.
These are: the 2021 National Budget, the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer Act, Amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the coco levy fund, and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE).
Over at the House of Representatives, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, who took over the chamber's helm in October 2020, also defended the House’s track record.
“Almost all the legislative measures that were mentioned by the President during his SONA, we've actually passed and now we're just waiting for the Senate to finish their part in trying to pass those measures and after that, we'll just to wait for the other legislative measures that will be mentioned by the President because he only has a year to go so we'll try to work on that and we'll try to finish that,” he said.
He added that Congress has been "very productive... even during or before pandemic time."
"I guess if I can remember it correctly, we're talking about free irrigation, free tuition in SUCs [State Universities and Colleges], and other laws that were passed and even during the pandemic, when the pandemic hit, we also passed a couple of laws that actually would help in trying to save our nation from the effects of the pandemic," he said.
But Dr. Francisco Magno, a political science professor from the De La Salle University, doesn’t seem impressed.
“If we are to rate the performance,I would say it is only 50% passed. It's 50% because they have accomplished only 50% of the list of bills that have been prioritized,” he said.
He noted some "substantial achievements," including the passage of the Bangsamoro organic law, the Ease of Doing Business law, the Universal Health Care Act, and the law providing free tertiary education.
Magno, however, pointed out that tax reform is only partially done.
“They were able to accomplish half of the package because they were able to pass the package 1 and package 2 with respect to the sin taxes but they haven't passed the 2 remaining packages of the tax reform, and we all understand that tax reform measures [are] very important to the program of the administration because it is pursuing accelerated infrastructure program,” he said.
He also cited crucial bills that lawmakers have not passed under the Duterte administration.
These include laws creating separate departments for overseas Filipinos, disaster resilience and water, and a measure on national land use. He said Duterte has repeatedly mentioned these bills in his earlier SONAs.
Magno attributed the backlog partly to internal intramurals among lawmakers, which he said prevented them from spending more time forging a consensus on policies.
Among presidents, Duterte, so far, has had the most number of House Speakers—Pantaleon Alvarez from 2016-2018, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from 2018-2019, Alan Peter Cayetano from 2019 to 2020, and the incumbent Lord Allan Velasco, who is expected to step down alongside him in 2022.
Arroyo rose to the helm with the ouster of Alvarez. So did Velasco, with the ouster of Cayetano.
“These took a lot of time, these jockeying for positions. This indeed was critical in preventing Congress in achieving their goals. At the same time, the existence of very divisive politics prevented the mobilization of consensus with respect to the need really to push for reforms that are needed. Remember, that it is really crucial to be able to get as much political support, especially if you are undertaking very important reforms,” Magno said.
The professor also pointed out that time was also spent on executive priorities that would really be challenging for Congress to pass, such as the revival of the death penalty.
“I understand that in the Senate there is difficulty in getting support so, of course, the senators have their own reasons and their own value systems. But with respect to the House of Representatives, we have to take note of the fact that it is a coalition of supporters for the administration," he said.
"They do some from different perspectives. For example, there is a faction that is identified with former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the abolition of the death penalty was in fact during her administration. We have a good bloc of Congress representatives who will not support the reimposition of the death penalty.”
Sotto confirmed that there are certain measures that would be challenging for them to approve in the remaining months of the administration, including bills on the death penalty revival, national land use, and pension reform for uniformed personnel.
The only way they will become law is if the President takes a more direct hand, he said.
“Well, 'pag talagang finastbreak, 'pag finastbreak may... kahit papaano may pag-asa 'yan especially if the President will talk to those who are against it," Sotto said.
On the other hand, there are bills that stand a very good chance of making the cut.
Velasco pointed out: “Ang parang naging utang na lang natin diyan would be the retail trade, the public service act, the foreign direct investments, 'yung mga 'yun na lang, then I guess we've already fulfilled 'yung mga kinakailangan ipasa na hiningi sa atin ni Pangulo.”
Sotto seconded this, saying: “The Retail Trade Liberalization law, it's very important for the economy. It's in the bicam so papasa 'yun. the Public Services Act is on 2nd reading in the Senate, pasado sa House, most probably by August papasa namin 'yun. And then the amendments to the Foreign Investments Act, that's another malamang pumasa."
"Meron din pending kami approval on 3rd reading so papasa ito, which is the [bill on] rural agricultural and fisheries development. 'Yun 'yung naka-pending pero malamang pumasa, in all probabilities it will be passed."
The Senate chief said other bills that could still make it are the Passive Income Tax and Financial Intermediary Tax Act or PIFITA, the GUIDE or the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery Act, the tax on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, the bill creating the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos and the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines, The Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act, and the Valuation Reform Act.
But Magno is skeptical about this, citing the onset of the 2022 election season.
"Our legislators are also thinking of their own election plans either for re-election purposes or for pursuing other electoral posts. At the same time, we are still in a pandemic, it restricts movement of people, it restricts the usual processes that are needed in order to mobilize people in pulling through the needed support for this important legislation," he said.