No time left to pass bill against dynasties

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate has started working on a bill prohibiting political dynasties even as several groups have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to compel Congress to pass such a law.

Because there is little time left for the 15th Congress to pass the bill, however, both Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who chairs the committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, admitted yesterday that the measure may have to wait until the next Congress.

Sotto said public hearings and plenary debates on the proposed bill could provide a good starting point for future deliberations on the measure.

One public hearing has been conducted so far on Senate Bill 2649 filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago that seeks to ban political dynasties.

Sotto said there are too many pending pieces of legislation in the Senate and it would be difficult to include the bill as a priority measure.

However, he said that the conduct of hearings and perhaps debates on the bill could serve as a starting point for future discussions.

Pimentel said he would conduct one or two more hearings solely for the measure.

“I expect that after those hearings, we can come out with a good definition, and then all the disqualifications will follow from this good definition of what constitutes political dynasties,” Pimentel said.

However, he said that getting this approved before Congress adjourns in June 2013 might not be possible.

“Not in 2013 but I just want to contribute to lawmaking, in the sense that I can come up with a better version of the bill and if this is re-filed in the next Congress then it will be an improved version of the current one,” Pimentel said.

The Senate is expected to focus attention on the proposed P2-trillion national budget for 2013 when it resumes session on Nov. 5 in order to have it enacted into law before yearend.

Aside from the budget bill, the Senate also has a number of priority measures pending approval, such as the sin tax bill, the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the controversial Reproductive Health bill.

With elections coming up in May next year, most of the senators would also be busy campaigning, leaving little time for legislative work.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said the other day that he does not see any problem with the bill hurdling the Senate but as far as the House of Representatives is concerned, that would be a problem.

Osmeña recalled that during the 10th Congress in 1995, a similar bill was debated in the Senate but was archived because it did not have the support of the House of Representatives.

He said that the bill went to the archive after former senator Orlando Mercado was told by his counterpart in the House of Representatives that he should not even bother sending the bill over to them because there was no way they were going to approve it.

Apart from the apparent refusal by the House of Representatives to give its support to an anti-political dynasty bill during the 10th Congress, another reason the Senate gave up deliberating on the measure then was the legal question raised over the inclusion of common-law wives and mistresses in the coverage of the proposed law.

Sotto was very familiar with the issue because he raised it during the plenary debates on a proposed anti-political dynasty bill during the 10th Congress in 1995.

Sotto recalled that the bill sponsored by Mercado was one that he and most senators did not oppose since they did not have relatives in power anyway.

“But aside from the fact that there was a problem with the House, there was also one factor why Orly (Mercado) could not continue with the interpellation. During the period of interpellation, I asked him up to what degree (of relationship would be prohibited) and what to do with the mistress and common law wife,” Sotto said.

He said that this was a legitimate issue because there were several areas in the country where the mistresses and the common law wives were running for office and using the resources of their incumbent partners’ office to ensure victory.

Sotto argued that an anti-political dynasty law that does not include the mistresses and common law wives would be unfair since only the legal families of politicians would not be allowed to run for office.

According to Sotto, he and Mercado agreed to include the mistresses and common law wives in the bill.

However, at that point, Sotto recalled that then Senate President Neptali Gonzales went down from his office to prevent them from pushing through with their amendment.

“He said, you could not do that. You cannot legalize the illegal,” Sotto said, quoting the late Senate president.

Based on Sotto’s recollection, Gonzales argued then that the inclusion of mistresses was in effect a recognition of their status as somewhat legal.

Sotto said that this issue should be addressed in the current deliberations on the proposed bill filed by Santiago.

“If it will be debated again, I suggest that the sponsors of the measure resolve that now. Find a way to resolve that, otherwise, if we cannot, we should not prevent legal families and allow the illegal,” Sotto said.

Under Santiago’s bill, the common law wife or husband is included under the definition of a spouse.

The bill also prohibits relatives of an incumbent local government official, up to the second degree of consanguinity, to hold or run for any elective office in the same province and in the same election.

Suggestions were made to include relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity, but a number of senators felt that this could already be too much.

Sotto, Osmeña and Pimentel, while having the same opinion about the proposal, said that they would be willing to put this in the bill if this is what the people want.

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