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New Agrarian Emancipation Act: The lone bill mentioned in Marcos' first SONA signed into law


One year after President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. laid down his legislative agenda in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), only one of the 22 he mentioned has been signed into law so far. 

The New Agrarian Emancipation Act is the lone bill from the 22 measures mentioned in Marcos’ first SONA that has been signed by Marcos. It was signed on July 7, 2023, or a few weeks before he gives his second SONA.

The new law, or the Republic Act No. 11953, will benefit 610,054 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) as it writes off P57,557 billion of their loans.

But what happened to the other measures Marcos wanted prioritized? Here’s the status of the so-called "SONA bills" in both chambers:

Department of Water Resources

*House of Representatives: Pending at the committee level

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Despite being a SONA bill, the measure remains pending at the committee level in both House and the Senate. 

Senate public services chairperson Grace Poe has reiterated the need for a department that will manage the country’s water resources. Poe mentioned Marcos’ Executive Order 22 can help in the matter.

Section 2(a) of the EO states that a Water Resources Management Office (WRMO) will “shepherd and champion, together with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, the passage of a law creating an apex body such as the proposed Department of Water and/or a regulatory commission on water.”

Poe earlier this month said she hopes the Marcos administration will make the creation of the Department of Water a priority amid the water crisis and the effects of the El Niño phenomenon.

Poe also pointed out that WRMO’s function can be done by Congress as well as other relevant agencies such as the National Economic Development Authority, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Local Water Utilities Administration, and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension (Military and Uniformed Personnel Pension System Reform)

*House of Representatives: Pending at committee level

*Senate: Pending at committee level

Members of the Marcos Cabinet are actively pushing for the reform of the MUP pension system. However, relevant agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are still appealing for a “middle ground” as they raised the supposed apprehension from affected personnel.

Senate committee on national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation chairman Jinggoy Estrada, who leads the hearing on the proposed MUP pension system reform bill, earlier expressed optimism that the proposed law will be enacted by the end of 2023.

Estrada had said he will continue consultations with the stakeholders, including Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management and the agencies that will be affected by the proposed pension reforms.

Teodoro also said that MUP reforms is the "first marching order" of Marcos to him after he was appointed Defense chief. 

“A self-sustaining pension system scheme needs time. You need to build up the fund, and we will need to find sources in order to raise capital for the fund, and we need to grow the fund, so it takes time,” Teodoro said. 

The proposed reform on the MUP pension includes the removal of automatic indexation in pension and the imposition of mandatory contributions on military personnel.

National Disease Prevention Management Authority (Creation of Center for Disease Control)

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Period of interpellation

All lawmakers are in agreement that there is a need for a CDC in the Philippines. However, when the bill reached the Senate, senators saw a possible overlap in the mandates of the proposed Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines and the existing Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) which was originally planned to be absorbed by the proposed CDC.

When the bill creating the CDC reached the Senate plenary, Senator Pia Cayetano said that the upper chamber’s version will retain and no longer absorb the RITM.

Creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

National Government Rightsizing Program

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Budget Modernization Bill

*House of Representatives: Pending at the committee level

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Valuation Reform Bill

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA)

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

E-Governance Act

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Internet Transactions bill

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Period of interpellations

Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE)

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Medical Reserve Corps

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level 

E-Governance Act

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading (merged with E-Government Act)

*Senate: Pending at the  committee level

National Land Use Act

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

National Defense Act

*House of Representatives: Pending at the committee level

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and National Service Training Program (NSTP)

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Period of interpellations

Enabling Law for the Natural Gas Industry

*House of Representatives: Passed on second reading

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA (Republic Act No. 9136)

*House of Representatives: Pending at the committee level

*Senate: Pending at the committee level

Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Period of interpellations

Bill imposing value-added tax (VAT) on digital services

*House of Representatives: Approved on third and final reading

*Senate: Approved at the committee level

Zubiri explains

In an interview on The Mangahas Interviews, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri explained why the passage of the bills takes time in the Upper Chamber.

“[Since] time immemorial, [sa] Senado hindi ito pabilisan. Ito po’y pinagdedebatehan —ang lahat ng panukala. Galing din ako ng House or Representatives at doon sa House of Representatives, alam ko yung proseso. Matagal ang debate sa committee level, pero pagdating sa plenaryo halos… halos wala na debate sa plenaryo at binabanggit na lang ang batas at binoboto, except for the very controversial ones. That’s the style in the House,” Zubiri said.

(Since time immemorial, the legislative process in the Senate was never about how quick the bills are passed. All measures are being debated extensively. I was also a member of the House of Representatives and I also know how they pass bills there. At the committee level, the members of the House are debating extensively.  Once the measure reaches the plenary, their debates are already short and they vote on the measure immediately, except for the very controversial ones. That’s the style in the House of Representatives.)

“In the Senate, baligtad-- pagdating sa committee mabilis, pagdating sa plenaryo, lahat gustong makipag-debate sa sponsor and hindi po natin pinipigilan ‘yan,” he added.

(We have a different process in the Senate. The bills are swiftly approved at the committee level but when it reaches the plenary, many senators will interpellate the measure and we don’t stop them from doing so.)

The Senate president explained that it is a tradition in the Senate to give its members the “leeway” to interpellate and amend the bills that are being passed in the plenary.

“This is a time-proven system in the Senate of the Philippines. So, ‘yan po ay part ng traditions of the Senate of the Philippines. So, mas matagal. We want to make sure na ang ipapasa po natin na panukala will stand the test of constitutionality and will benefit the majority of the Filipino people,” he said.

(This is a time-proven system in the Senate of the Philippines. So that is part of the traditions of the Senate of the Philippines. The passage of measures in the Senate takes time because we want to make sure that all the bills approved by the upper chamber will stand the test of constitutionality and will benefit the majority of the Filipino people.)

Other measures signed

Although Congress failed to pass most of the bills laid down by Marcos in last year’s SONA, Congress acted upon other measures such as the law postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, the law amending the fixed terms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the SIM Registration Act.

While the law postponing the 2022 BSKE was not certified as urgent by Marcos, lawmakers fast-tracked its passage as they only have five months to approve a law that will move the December 2022 polls.

Marcos also did not certify the SIM Registration Act as urgent, but it was signed into law after the 19th Congress removed the provision which caused former President Rodrigo Duterte to veto it.

Duterte vetoed the 18th Congress version of the measure as it included a provision that required registration of social media accounts.

Meanwhile, the law amending the AFP fixed terms was certified urgent by Marcos following the reported rumblings within the military force due to the “unintended consequences” of Republic Act 11709—a law passed by the 18th  Congress which grants three-year fixed term for key AFP officials, including the chief of staff.

Congress also gave importance to the passage of the bill extending and expanding the Estate Tax Amnesty, as well as the recently-signed Maharlika Investment Act, both were not part of Marcos’ SONA bills but were certified urgent by the president.

In total, there are 20 bills that were enacted into law during the first regular session of the 19th Congress, most of which are measures of local application.

LEDAC

Early this July, the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) identified 20 measures which will be pushed for approval by Congress before the end of the year. These are:

  • Amendments of the BOT Law/PPP bill
  • National Disease Prevention Management Authority
  • Internet Transactions Act/E-Commerce Law
  • Health Emergency Auxiliary Reinforcement Team (Heart) Act formerly Medical Reserve Corps
  • Virology Institute of the Philippines
  • Mandatory ROTC and NSTP
  • Revitalizing the Salt Industry
  • Valuation Reform
  • E-Government/E-Governance
  • Ease of Paying Taxes
  • National Government Rightsizing Program
  • Unified System of Separation/Retirement and Pension of MUPs
  • LGU Income Classification
  • Waste-to-Energy bill
  • New Philippine Passport Act
  • Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers
  • National Employment Action Plan
  • Amendments to the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act
  • The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas-endorsed Bank Deposit Secrecy
  • Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act (AFASA)

Of the 20 measures, nine were already mentioned in Marcos’ first SONA.

The other priority measures from the October 2022 LEDAC meeting include:

  • Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA)
  • National Land Use Act
  • Enabling Law for the Natural Gas Industry
  • Apprenticeship Law
  • Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS)
  • Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE)
  • Free Legal Assistance for Police and Soldiers
  • Negros Island Region
  • Leyte Ecological Industrial Zone
  • Eastern Visayas Development Authority
  • Philippine Immigration Bill
  • Comprehensive Infrastructure Development Master Plan
  • Magna Carta of Barangay Health Workers

Thirteen of these measures were already mentioned in Marcos’ 2022 SONA.

In the same interview with veteran journalist Malou Mangahas, Zubiri said they are eyeing to pass 11 LEDAC priority bills which are pending on second reading in the Senate by August and September.

“Eleven of these [LEDAC] bills are already pending second reading sa Senado, tapos na sa House. We are looking this August at September, matatapos natin ito,” he said.

(Eleven of these LEDAC bills are already pending second reading in the Senate. These were already passed in the House. We are looking at approving this in August and September.)

—VAL, GMA Integrated News

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