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18th Congress eyes final agenda

MANILA, Philippines — The 18th Congress of the Philippines will convene for its third and final session today, a little over six months before the start of the campaign period for the election of the next Congress, all local officials, and the 17th President of the Republic.

Senators only have a narrow window from today until the start of the campaign period on Feb. 8, 2022, when at least seven members of the 24-member Senate will be busy preparing for the May 9 election.

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But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of those up for reelection, is confident that senators can still pass meaningful legislation in the next two months.

“We’re in a really unique situation right now because of the pandemic, so candidates aren’t necessarily going to be able to engage in traditional campaign activities—the house-to-house visits, that would no longer be feasible,” he told the Inquirer.

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“So I think it’s actually going to be easier this time around to get a hold of quorum and to facilitate Senate business as usual at least for the next two months,” he said.

Zubiri noted that the chamber’s rules now allow online attendance, meaning the senators could be virtually present in plenary sessions and committee hearings “even as we do our campaigning beyond our session hours.”

Priority measures

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon doubted that politics would not get in the way of legislative business.

“We have seen in the past and just recently in PDP-Laban, we will see more shifting alliances and political realignments in the coming days,” Drilon said in a statement.

So far, the Senate has committed the passage of proposed amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Public Services Act, and the Foreign Investments Act in the next two months, Zubiri said.

Other priority measures are the proposed Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, the Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization, the Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing Systems Act, the Increase in the Statutory Rape Age Act, the Military and Uniformed Personnel Insurance Fund Act, and the Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Law.

Senate concurrence

The measures listed by Zubiri have already been passed by the House of Representatives and only need Senate concurrence.

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On the other hand, members of the House of Representatives have almost eight months until the campaign period for local officials starts in March next year.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez on Sunday said the House would prioritize the proposed P5.024-trillion budget for 2022 and the five remaining bills in the legislative agenda of President Duterte.

“I am anticipating that most of the concerns in our defeat COVID-19 campaign will be included in the 2022 national budget that we are about to receive after the final Sona (State of the Nation Address) of President Duterte,” he said in a statement.

Romualdez said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco had explicitly said the House would also prioritize the passage of five remaining bills in the agenda set by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.

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