Enrile: Only senators’ attendance can ultimately save priority measuresBy Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — Apparently tired of being blamed for the stalling of priority measures, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile turned to colleagues and asked them to spend more time inside the session hall instead of disappearing upon the recording of their attendance during roll call.
Enrile said debates on the floor would go faster and the approval of bills swifter if only fellow senators stayed in their seats until the adjournment of session.
Attendance in the Senate was already questioned recently after some members admitted being unaware of what went on during the debates and subsequent approval of what later became the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act.
Enrile was asked on Sunday about the chances of the Senate passing a bill increasing taxes on so-called sin products like tobacco and alcohol and the 2013 budget bill of P2-trillion.
Enrile already said in a previous interview that the two would go hand in hand.
This after Senate finance chair Franklin Drilon noted that the additional P60 billion that the government has been expecting to collect from the sin tax bill has been incorporated in the 2013 budget.
Enrile, however, said much of the work in the next few weeks would rely on strong attendance by senators, especially since the sin tax bill has emerged as the next divisive issue after the reproductive health bill and another carving a new province out of Camarines Sur (CamSur).
Asked whether he agreed with sin tax proponents that the bill could be approved in two weeks, Enrile said: “It is possible if the senators don’t go gallivanting (“walang mga namamasyal”), isn’t it?”
The Senate President said several senators only showed up for the roll call and then left for various reasons.
“Some say they have official business waiting outside the building. Others claim they are sick. There are so many reasons,” he noted.
Enrile warned that any senator could question the existence of a quorum during the sin tax debates.
“What follows inside the session hall then when there is none,” he asked.
Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada used this tack one time when debates were heating up over the Camsur bill in September.
The move forced Enrile to call for an adjournment after Estrada questioned the lack of quorum.
The Senate President said its members “are not my employees” and senators should realize their responsibility of attending the sessions.
“But look at some of them. I’m not saying all are but there are those who claim they have business elsewhere, they would rather talk outside than inside the session hall … I cannot order a lockdown of the session hall to prevent them from leaving. Otherwise, someone might again make a remark about martial law and Enrile,” he noted.
Pressed for some names, Enrile said: “You are the ones who vote for them, these popular senators who win.”
Focusing on the sin tax bill, Enrile said Drilon would have the unenviable job of balancing his responsibility as chair of the finance committee defending the 2013 budget and his new description as acting ways and means chair following the resignation of Sen. Ralph Recto from the post.
Recto resigned after accusations he favored tobacco companies when he drafted his report raising additional sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol by only P15 billion.
Enrile said Recto may still be upset and could be gearing for a showdown with those tasked to sponsor the sin tax measure following his hasty exit.
Among the issues that Enrile expects Recto to raise are:
* the Department of Finance’s (DOF) bases in justifying the possibility of raising P60 billion in additional sin revenues;
* whether the tobacco and alcohol industries can sustain this target; and
* how the government intends to safeguard against adverse effects of sin taxes like its backlash on the tobacco industry and possible increased smuggling activity.
Drilon’s problem it seems, is that he disagrees with Recto’s sponsorship report but wants to use it as basis to kick start the Senate debates on the measure, according to Enrile.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III raised the same dilemma for Drilon in a previous interview.
Enrile said Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago as author of the sin tax bill preferred by the DOF shared Drilon’s burden after she volunteered her version as the new basis for sin tax discussions last week.
“We would ask her what was the economic basis for that? Since she drafted it, she must know these details. (Santiago) cannot be like a magician pulling (tax) rates from thin air, especially since they are endorsing unitary rates after a certain period,” the Senate President explained.
Tags: Congress , Franklin Drilon , Juan Ponce Enrile , Legislation , Miriam Defensor-Santiago , News , Politics , quorum , Ralph Recto , Senate , Senate attendance , senators , Sergio Osmeña III , sin taxes