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Senators discuss 2017 legislative agenda

MANILA, Philippines - The leadership of the Senate is committed to improving the productivity of the chamber in the coming months after a forgettable first six months of the first regular session of the 17th Congress.

With the plenary sessions set to resume this Monday following a one-month break, several senators met for a caucus on Wednesday to discuss the legislative agenda for the first half of 2017.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the senators present at the meeting were asked to submit their respective lists of pet bills, which would be given priority in the next months.

“We discussed procedures and we need time to go over the written submissions of the senators. We will strategize the use of time this January to March session. We will identify non-controversial measures which can be processed alongside controversial ones,” Pimentel said.

“We won’t let the controversial ones eat up all our time that we forget processing pet or priority bills which are non-controversial,” he added.

Without providing specific details of what was discussed, Pimentel said there was unanimous support among the senators to pass a number of vital pieces of legislation.

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Among them are the provisions of free tuition in state universities and colleges, free irrigation for farmers, universal health insurance coverage and nutritious meals for students in public primary schools.

Pimentel said there was also a discussion among the senators about the reduction of the individual income tax rate, the revival of the death penalty, election spending reporting, the creation of a boxing commission, department of OFW and the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the goal is to pass as many of the pet bills within the next two months as they could.

Among the bills submitted by the senators were freedom of information and nutritious meals for public primary school students by Sen. Grace Poe, the budget reform bill of Sen. Panfilo Lacson and the amendment of the Anti-Hazing Law of Sotto.

Sotto said there was also an agreement to facilitate approval of the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the creation of a trust fund for the coconut levy funds and the expansion of the coverage of the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

The first regular session of Congress runs until June 2, when it adjourns sine die.

A total of 15 senators were present during the caucus late Wednesday.

Aside from Pimentel and Sotto, the other lawmakers in attendance were Sens. Leila de Lima, Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros and Poe.

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