Villar wants Senate to be productive

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE opposition-dominate d Senate wants to prove it can be productive, legislation- wise, despite its propensity for investigations and fault-finding as Senate President Manuel Villar vowed to spearhead the passage of 14 priority measures before the Oct. 13 adjournment.

“We are giving priority to 14 bills in the remaining three weeks before adjournment,” Villar said.

The first bill expected to be approved by the Senate is the Cheaper Medicines Act that aims to bring quality drugs within the reach of the poor.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has promised to certify the bill, which pushes for a mechanism regulating the prices of medicine as well as expansion of the local production of off-patent essential drugs, as urgent after the 13th Congress failed to ratify the final version.

Other priority bills are the expansion of agricultural assistance to farmers and scholarships to their children, the amendment to the Veterans Act, the Human Rights Compensation Act, the new charter of the University of the Philippines, the strengthening of the judiciary by giving additional retirement benefits to judges and justices, and an amendment to the Child Pornography Law.

Also listed as priority measures are a bill fixing the term of the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, the Tourism Act, the Anti-Cellfone Theft Act, the creation of the Commission on Missing Persons, the creation of the Credit Information Bureau, the Personal Equity Retirement Act, and the amendment to the Small and Medium Enterprises Law.

Normally, Villar said the Senate during the first few months of the regular session is unable to pass bills since this period is devoted to sponsorships and deliberations on legislative proposals.

Starting next week, he said, the Senate will hold marathon sessions from Monday to Wednesday and conduct investigations on Thursdays and Fridays.

“Since the committees have been organized, we have been on a hectic 10-hour work day,” Villar said. “We have a back-breaking schedule ahead of us.”

Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said the senators have agreed during a caucus Tuesday to start the daily session at 3 p.m. and avoid delays in the session to expedite the passage of bills.

Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. assured that the investigative work of the senators does not interfere or is in conflict with their legislative duties. Usually, he said they do their investigative work in the morning and early part of the afternoon with the plenary session held afterwards until 7 p.m. or beyond.