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Legislators asked to pass urgent measures during current Congress’ last days

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 03:00 PM May 22, 2013

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa

MANILA—With the elections over, Malacañang is nudging senators and congressmen to make the most of the remaining two session days of the 15th Congress by passing priority measures.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. met last Monday with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III to explore the possibility of Congress approving six measures in “advanced stages” on June 5 and 6.

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On their wish list are bills delineating forest limits, reorganizing the Philippine Statistical System, providing science and technology scholarships, amending the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, strengthening the witness protection program and protecting whistle-blowers.

“These are the bills that were not passed for lack of material time,” Secretary Manuel Mamba of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office said, referring to the early adjournment of sessions in February to prepare for the May 13 mid-term elections.

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The time and resources spent deliberating on them would be wasted if they’re not passed, he said. And if they don’t reach the end of the legislative mill, they would have to be filed again during the 16th Congress, which opens on July 22.

“We will try to work on them,’’ Mamba, who was present at the meeting, said on the phone.”It’s a pity if we don’t pass them.’’

To skip an otherwise lengthy bicameral conference committee, Malacañang and Congress are working on the idea of one chamber adopting the other’s version, according to Mamba, the Executive Department’s go-between with Congress.

Belmonte had expressed openness to the House adopting the Senate version in some of the measures, Mamba said.

Back in 2010, after President Aquino assumed office, the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) drew up a common legislative agenda comprising 35 pieces of legislation. As the 15th Congress comes to a close, only 14 of these have been enacted into law.

Mamba reckoned that only the bill defining the limits and boundaries of forest lands has the best chance of being approved on third and final reading.

“The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has no objection to both versions. Besides, there’s minor difference in the two versions. If one chamber adopts the other’s version, that’s good as approved,” he said.

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The House approved its version in 2012, but the Senate managed to pass its own on second reading before Congress adjourned in February for the elections.

The approval of the legislation would enable the state to conserve, protect and develop the forest resources of the country in order to attain ecological balance, preserve valuable ecosystems, prevent environmental degradation and promote sustainable development for the next generation.

“We are trying (for) one or two” bills to pass, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said in a text message.

But a more optimistic Sotto said they could approve the first four measures, but not the controversial bills dealing with witnesses and whistle-blowers.

The House passed its version of the measure providing more security for whistle-blowers in 2012, but the Senate came up short.

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TAGS: 15th Congress, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, May 13 mid-term elections, Philippine Statistical System, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
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