Curtains close on Senate’s first regular session
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate has adjourned sine die its first regular session in the 19th Congress, but before the curtains closed on Wednesday, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri touted the chamber’s achievement badges, including the approval of eight priority measures of the Marcos administration.
During the session, Zubiri trumpeted that the Senate approved 31 bills and more than 70 resolutions during its first year.
He said six of the proposed measures that had hurdled the chamber were now laws.
Among these are the SIM Registration Act, the suspension of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines fixed-term code – all tagged as priority bills of the government.
Twenty-two other bills that the Senate has passed await the signature of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Five of these are key bills of the Marcos administration, including the hotly debated Maharlika Investment Fund bill – a measure marked as urgent by no less than the chief executive.
The proposed MIF — Marcos’ pet bill — seemed to be the grand finale of Congress’ first regular session since both the Senate and the House of Representatives were heavily fixated on passing the measure before they go on a break. And they did.
“While the scoreboard shows the quantity of our outputs, it cannot even begin to describe the quality of each,” Zubiri said in his closing speech.
He also asserted that the upper chamber does not slow down the progress of the legislature, but instead, aims to improve it.
“True to our tradition, we do not agree to proposals without discussion nor embrace ideas without debate. We improve before we approve. We do not trade scrutiny for speed. All of the laws we forge here are thoroughly scrutinized),” Zubiri said, speaking partly in Filipino.
This is a similar script to what Zubiri had used a few months ago, when he quashed talks of leadership shake-ups in the Senate, allegedly due to his sluggish productivity and failure to prioritize key legislative measures.
Zubiri pointed to another aspect of the Senate’s performance, which the “scoreboard does not reveal.”
“The courage to investigate abuses. Senate watchers and the nation, in general, can attest to the headline-making investigations of our committees who have held exhaustive probes into various national issues from agriculture, peace and order to malversation of public funds,” he said.
The first regular session of the 19th Congress witnessed a heap of Senate investigations on an array of issues – agricultural smuggling, human trafficking, political killings, and other anomalies that lawmakers did not sweep aside.
“But when we conduct hearings on anomalies, we do not merely find faults. We find solutions, as well. Our attention is not merely to look for crooks, to be indicted, but to find what remedial laws must be initiated,” Zubiri said.
Senate work continues
Although Congress has adjourned sine die, Zubiri promised that the Senate would “still be hard at work.”
“The heartbeat of lawmaking will continue. And the pursuit of public accountability and good governance will not go on vacation either. There is no moratorium on the conduct of our oversight,” he said.
Zubiri said the Senate would face days of both unity and division in its decision-making. But he reminded his fellow lawmakers that, at the end of the day, their goal is to work toward “uplifting the lives of the people.”
And when they return to kickstart Congress’ second regular session in July, Zubiri vowed to push the Senate back to the groove of lawmaking.
“We will return with high-impact legislation. We will unleash the forces of the Philippine economy, but we will also provide a soft landing for the less fortunate,” he said.