(Speech of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. at the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress on 24 July 2017)
Distinguished members of the house of representatives, colleagues, and friends, good morning!
It has been a year since we began our journey as the 17th Congress of the Philippines. With the first session now adjourned – and as we begin the second session – let us look back at the year that has passed.
The May 2016 elections was one of the most partisan in the history of our nation. In spite of this, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Our performance speaks for itself. For our first session, we passed – on third reading – two hundred and ten (210) legislative measures. Given that we had ninety-seven (97) session days, that’s an average of two (2) bills on third reading for every session day. Our concrete efforts to provide our people with better chances at life is undeniable.
While variables beyond our control have marked our first session with unprecedented challenges, we did not waver or falter. We did our job. As a matter of fact, for all the ninety-seven (97) session days of our first session, we had a quorum. This is unheard of. Let us thank Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas for his decisiveness – and the House Members for their cooperation – regarding this matter.
Our collective commitment and discipline also made possible landmark legislative feats. We passed the 2017 budget in record time. Credit goes to Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles for leading the charge in tackling the budget. We have also succeeded in steering the return of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes. Let us recognize the hard work of Rep. Reynaldo Umali for making this possible.
The House has also passed, on third reading, the Tax Reform Bill. For the longest time, a comprehensive reform of our tax laws was considered beyond the reach of reality. That remained true until Rep. Dakila Cua stepped into the fight. Let us thank him for safely navigating the Tax Reform Bill through the rough seas of Congress.
Our legislative task, however, cannot be done alone. It is accomplished through partnership not only amongst ourselves but also in tandem with our colleagues at the Senate of the Philippines whom we meet with once every beginning of the month. This has laid the solid ground for a more effective and efficient inter-chamber operational compatibility. Through a spirited but cordial exchange, we have agreed upon the Common Legislative Agenda of Congress. There are forty (40) nationally important items on that list.
Our collective hard work paid off as shown by what we were able to accomplish as we reached the legislative finish line during the month of May of this year. The House and the Senate chose fourteen (14) measures from the Common Legislative Agenda for passage on third reading before session ended. On the part of the House of Representatives, we delivered eleven (11) of the fourteen (14) bills. The remaining three (3) bills are making substantial progress through the legislative process here in our chamber.
Of the fourteen (14) nationally important measures, the House and the Senate successfully passed six (6) bills which are now at the doorstep of becoming laws. All that is required now is the signature of the President. These are landmark reforms, some long overdue, and commonsense cures to the everyday pain points of life.
To start off, with the enactment of R.A. 10927, amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act to cover casino transactions, we have created an additional safeguard against the threats posed by those who perpetrated the Bangladesh Bank Heist and laid bare the vulnerabilities of our banking systems.
Thanks to the approval of both chambers of Congress, several bills are also now submitted to the President for his signature. These bills have made
tertiary education more accessible, increased interconnectedness of our people through free internet in public places, updated the backwardness of the fines applicable in the Revised Penal Code to be more in keeping with today’s realities, and strengthened emergency health care services especially for indigent patients.
Let us recognize Rep. Ann Hofer, Rep. Victor Yap, Rep. Reynaldo Umali, Rep. Ben Evardone and Rep. Angelina Tan for making sure that these bills pass on third reading here in our chamber.
We have also fixed certain everyday problems that bring inconvenience to our people. Now, the validity of a driver’s license is five (5) years and, should a driver comply with reasonable conditions, it can even be as long as ten (10) years. The same is true for the validity of passports. It can be valid for as long as a decade or ten (10) years. We extend our appreciation to Rep. Cesar Sarmiento and Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica for their dedication to the cause.
We were able to do all of these in just one session. Indeed, we have reason to celebrate. But let us temper our joys with the sobering thought that we still have plenty of challenges left to face. There are remaining items in the Common Legislative Agenda of the House and the Senate. There is also the Presidential Legislative Agenda. And, of course, we all have advocacies we hold close to our hearts which we wish to translate into law.
Our first session aimed at getting the basics right without which we end up hubristically building our nation on shifting sands. Getting the basics right is like finding our granite upon which we can build a sturdy nation – our home – designed and capable of withstanding the tests of time. This principle must be kept in mind as we move forward to our second session. Let us not only aim for landmark legislations, grand in scope, but also seek to address concerns that involve the basic fundamental unit of our society – the family.
Admittedly, there is a sad reality about some marriages. We do not always get it right the first time around. Unfortunately, the present system practically coerces married persons to remain with each other even if the relationship is beyond repair and has caused, and continues to cause, harm to the well-being of the husband, the wife and, worse, the children involved. We have to change this.
I thank Rep. Pia Cayetano for her commitment to file a bill that will allow for the dissolution of the marriage without the need for an extensively adversarial system. Married persons can mutually agree to end their marriage subject to the approval of the Court. One of the conditions, which must be complied with, is an agreed upon and executable framework to provide for the care and support of their children. Moreover, previously married persons can remain friends and better parents, despite their differences, since they no longer have to sling mud at each other in front of a judge just to convince the magistrate that their marriage should be declared void or voided.
We must also be considerate of the fact that marriage may not be for everyone. Presently, it even excludes certain groups of people from its fold. Let us tackle this issue head on. I will file a bill that will legally recognize and protect Civil Partnerships. I thank Rep. Geraldine Roman for her inputs regarding this legislative measure. Our citizens should not be excluded from society just because of the person they love. They must also be treated with equality before the law. I support Rep. Roman’s fight against discrimination in our society.
Let us not stop there. Children, through no fault of theirs, have been stigmatized by society for being born outside of a valid marriage. It is time to end the unequal treatment of legitimate and illegitimate children. We can start the process by equalizing the legitimes that children receive regardless of whether or not they were born within or outside wedlock. This is an issue of justice and fairness. I hope that you support it as well.
Beyond the family, we also have to embark upon the great reorganization of the government bureaucracy. The regulatory framework is chaotic, full of overlaps, conflicts of interests and, at times, there is no clear central regulatory body. Let’s start off with PAGCOR. It does not make sense for it to regulate and operate. An entity that has this power runs the risk of dealing itself a favorable hand while undercutting others.
We should also look into how land transportation, railways, airports, and seaports are organized and regulated. Often, a review of said areas of public interest would show how chaotic their regulatory frameworks are. Let us begin by merging the LTO and the LTFRB into the Land Transportation Authority. Moving forward, our railways must be regulated by a new body, the Philippine Railways Authority, which sets the uniform standards and fares for all railways operating here in the Philippines.
The same holds true for airports. We must create the Philippine Airports Authority since the different airports act autonomously, without sufficient oversight and agreed upon standards, given that many have their own charters. Let us work closely with Rep. Cesar Sarmiento to make this possible.
Now, let us complete the reorganization by adding a safeguard mechanism that will make certain that the public’s interest will always be protected. We must require that operators of casinos, public transportation, as well as mining companies, secure a legislative franchise from Congress prior to their operations. This will make certain that their applications are scrutinized deeply. Only the deserving will be allowed to operate. I have met with Rep. Franz Alvarez regarding this matter and I have full confidence in his ability to shepherd these bills through the legislative process.
Last but not the least, we have to concentrate our efforts in passing two (2) legislative measures that hold the key to lasting peace and prosperity for our country. FIRST the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft has been submitted to the President and will soon be on its way into our chambers. This will be the basis for creating a homeland for our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters. SECOND, we have to exert additional effort in paving the way for the shift from a unitary to a federal form of government. This will address the structural defects that have hampered our national strategy in pursuit of peace, prosperity, and progress. Let us recognize Rep. Roger Mercado’s contribution in pushing forward with this legislative agenda.
Evidently, we have our plates full for the rest of the second session. I am certain we can accomplish the tasks ahead of us. And, though I cannot mention everyone due to time constraints, I’d like to thank all of you for making our first session a success. You know who you are. Thank you.
As we embark upon our second session, let us remember for whom we legislate. And this is for the generations that will come after our own. The history of our nation is like a book. Each generation is allowed to write a chapter. And then we pass on the torch to those who will inherit what we leave behind. I wonder what the younger generations will speak of when they remember us and our legacy. On my part, I simply want to be remembered as the Speaker of the people who listened to – and acted upon – the often unheard cries and complaints of the marginalized and voiceless members of our society. Together, let us empower the disempowered.
I had recently found out that the youngest staff here in the House of Representatives works for my Office. Like many from her generation, she is both bright and promising. As a matter of fact, she graduated cum laude from the oldest university in Asia. With all the opportunities presented to her, she nonetheless chose the difficult life of public service – a life we in this chamber are all too familiar with. However, unlike many of us who will soon reach the twilight years of our lives, she has more time. What changes and challenges will her generation meet and overcome?
Will her generation still be full of Filipinos who will have to leave their families to pursue greener pastures abroad? Or will her generation – building upon what we, legislators of today, have accomplished – finally say to our OFWs abroad, “uwi na tayo.”
Will her generation still have to deal with fighting for elusive peace and missing out on progress and development should we fail to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law and – in addition to that – fail to shift our form of government from unitary to federal? Or will her generation reap the dividends of our efforts to end the insurgencies? Will our children still have to fight or can they finally live their lives in peace and happiness?
In this endless journey we call nation-building, let us make sure that we write our chapter well so that those who will come after us may build upon what we have secured. Let us keep this in mind as we begin our second session.
And may God bless the Philippines. ‘