Senate approves four bills before break

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Senate passed several more bills as it held its last plenary session before the Congress adjourned last night but the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was not one of them.

The chamber approved the bill restricting the right to carry firearms, the bill on the right of the public to reply to media reports or commentaries that affect them, a package of amendments to the Cooperative Code, and the bill reformulating the tourism policy and reorganizing the Tourism Department.

It has already wrapped up interpellations on the amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act prior to refinement and approval of the measure.

A day earlier, the Senate approved on third and final reading the proposed Pre-Need Code, the bill reducing from 30 percent to l0 percent the amusement tax on movie industry and the bill setting in place the mechanism for free legal assistance. It also ratified the consolidated bill establishing the Personal Equity Retirement Account, which was earlier approved by the bicameral conference committee.

Senate President Manuel Villar said that the chamber has approved more than 30 bills of national applications during the first regular session of the l4th Congress which started July 23, 2007.

Villar said the approved bills included the original nine priority legislative measures identified by the Legislative- Executive Development Advisory Council. He said the impressive output of bills belies frequent criticisms that the Senate has been squandering time and resources on investigations of scandals in the Arroyo administration.

The approved priority measures, many of which have been signed into law by President Arroyo, included the grant of financial incentives to micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises, quality and affordable medicines, the 2008 national budget, exemption of minimum wage earners from the income tax, extending the agricultural competitiveness enhancement fund, establishing the credit information system, creating a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, strengthening the University of the Philippines and the Pre-Need Code.

But the Senate failed to ratify the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement despite repeated appeals from Malacañang. Another major shortcoming of the chamber is the prolonged impasse over the bill delineating the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines. The United Nations has imposed a May 2009 deadline for the Philippines to draw up its archipelagic baselines or lose its claim on neighboring territories like the Spratly group of islands.