Senate leaders distance selves from Aquino priority bills
MANILA, Philippines—The Senate leadership distanced itself Wednesday from the 13 priority measures—including the reproductive health bill—pushed by President Benigno Aquino III at Tuesday’s Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting.
“Those were the priority bills of the executive branch, but it didn’t necessarily mean that they’re the priority measures of Congress, particularly the Senate,” Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Sotto said the Senate contingent went to the Ledac meeting in Malacañang, carrying a total of 41 bills for discussion. But what supposedly turned out was a gathering that saw only the Palace “presenting its own priorities.”
The senator called for a “smaller Ledac,” similar to meetings held during the time of former President Fidel Ramos, to consolidate priority measures prepared both by the Palace and the two houses of Congress.
Sotto said the approach would ensure that the bills to be presented in the actual Ledac meeting would be “really reflective” of the priorities of the executive and legislative branches.
In the case of the RH bill, he said, it was not included in the official list prepared by the Senate. He said the measure mentioned by the President the other day referred only to the version now undergoing deliberations at the House of Representatives.
“What the executive branch was endorsing was the House version, not ours,” he pointed out.
Still, he said, the Senate would expedite debate on the bill co-sponsored by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano “so we can already dispose of them.”
“To the garbage bin,” he added. “Because people might think that we are doing some dilatory tactics here, but we are not. We want to begin debates as soon as possible so we can shred the bill into pieces.”
Sotto, along with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, has introduced a counter-measure to the RH bill in the proposed Protection of the Unborn Child Law.
Mr. Aquino earlier announced that Malacañang had proposed at least 10 amendments to the RH bill, supposedly to put a premium on “responsible parenthood.”
“There will be certain segments that view any talk about artificial means of responsible parenthood as anathema to their beliefs, so they will not be satisfied with it. But we have tried to remove certain issues that can be contentious,” he said.
Sotto said the priority measures backed by Malacañang generally “would not address” the concerns included in its own Philippine Development Plan, the President’s belated roadmap for the country during his term. But he did not elaborate when asked about the specific bills.
Besides the RH bill, Mr. Aquino also called for amendments to the Human Security Act, People’s Television Network Law, and the rural electrification program. He also pushed for measures that would restructure the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products, and provide delineation of the specific forest limits of the public domain.
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