PBBM’s first year in office: Key measures passed, pending priority bills

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 26) – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has so far signed six pieces of legislation almost a year into his term as the country’s 17th president.

But how do these compare with the priority measures he mentioned in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA)?

LIST: Mandatory ROTC among BBM's priority measures in SONA 2022

Of the six laws he has enacted, only three were part of the 42 priority bills proposed by his administration’s Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council, while none were mentioned in his first SONA:

- The SIM Registration Act (Republic Act 11934)

- An Act Postponing the December 2022 Barangay and SK Elections (BSKEs) (RA 11935)

- Amendments to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) fixed term law (RA 11939)

University of the Pilippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza suggested that based on the number of laws passed, Congress may not really be unified in supporting the priorities of the president.

“Congress members may be hedging on some of the other priority measures or not really unified in terms of measures mentioned as priority by the president,” she told CNN Philippines.

She added that the “supermajority” in Congress supports the president only when his priorities coincide with their “personalistic interests.”

“This is the problem with having weak political parties. Instead of having support for programs and ideologies, those in the supermajority support the president based on personalistic interests,” said Atienza.

The House of Representatives is led by Marcos’ first cousin Speaker Martin Romualdez, while the president’s son, Sandro Marcos, is Ilocos Norte’s 1st district representative and Senior Deputy Majority Leader.

On the other hand, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri ran under the senatorial ticket of then presidential-aspirant Marcos in the May 2022 national and local elections. Twenty senators are part of the majority bloc while four are in the minority.

Both House Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senate President Miguel Zubiri earlier said their respective chambers’ will support and focus on Marcos’ priority measures.

Michael Yusingco, a research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government, agreed about the “close and friendly” relationship between Marcos and Congress.

However, unlike the House of Representatives (HOR), he noted that the senators “have not totally forgotten about their oversight responsibilities.”

“So they may not be as subservient as the HOR,” Yusingco told CNN Philippines. “This means that the priority bills of the [president] may find some resistance in the Senate. At the very least, senators will take time to really determine the viability of the [president’s] priority bills.”

Urgent measures

Marcos has certified three bills as urgent, namely: the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) Act of 2023, the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control Act, and the Public-Private Partnership Act.

The MIF will be tapped for possible investments in agriculture, energy, digitalization, and the fight against climate change, among others.

Zubiri has already signed the enrolled MIF bill which will be sent to Romualdez before being transmitted to Malacañang.

However, Yusingco noted that the chief executive had misused the constitutional mechanism of certifying measures as urgent.

“The constitutional mechanism of certifying a bill as urgent has constantly been misused. The purpose of this provision is to allow a swift legislative solution to address an emergency or calamity. This has not always been the case. Case in point is the Maharlika bill,” he said.

“The most worrisome fact about this situation is the public’s acceptance that this is actually okay […] Unless this is addressed, we will continue to see our public officials flouting constitutional rules and principles, including certifying a bill as urgent," Yusingco added.

Atienza likewise suggested that some of the bills labeled as urgent by the president were not “convincing as measures requiring urgent certification as they do not address directly a public calamity or emergency.”

What should the Marcos administration fast-track?

Atienza said that the Marcos administration should have pushed harder for “measures supporting local agriculture, more investment on health, human resources, Public Services Act or open data system, National Land Use Act, etc. which he mentioned in the SONA.”

The National Land Use Act – which provides for a rational, holistic management and development of the country's land and water resources – was among the initial 19 priority measures that Marcos mentioned in his first SONA last year.

The proposed measure has already been passed by the lower chamber but remains at the committee level at the Senate.

For his part, Yusingco said the National Government Rightsizing Program – which seeks to streamline national government offices by determining redundant positions and merging them – should be fast-tracked by Congress.

“CSOs [civil society organizations] should also exert pressure on Congress to immediately act on this bill. The passage of this bill will have an immediate impact in terms of improving public service,” Yusingco said. “It will boost our anti-corruption efforts. More importantly, the window of passing this successfully is closing soon.”

Marcos earlier said that the rightsizing initiative was not meant to terminate employees but to “upskill and reskill the current government workforce to improve state services and programs.”

The president also highlighted the Rightsizing Program bill as a priority in his first SONA.

Just like the National Land Use Act, the Rightsizing Program bill has been passed by the House but has yet to reach the Senate plenary. Four versions of the measure are pending at the Committee level of the higher chamber.

Moreover, aside from the Maharlika bill, other priority bills that are now up for Marcos’ signature are the condonation of unpaid amortization of loans of agrarian reform beneficiaries, and the establishment of regional specialty hospitals.