Sotto made the remarks after Duterte asked the Senate to pass immediately four bills, including the ROTC bill, the proposed Public Service Act, Foreign Investments Act and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.
KJ Rosales
‘No time for ROTC, other urgent measures’
Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III clarified yesterday that the 17th Congress is not likely to hold a special session to pass bills President Duterte had certified as urgent, including the measure seeking to revive the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program for senior high school students.

The 17th Congress will finally adjourn on June 7. The 18th Congress, with its new set of lawmakers, will open on July 22, which will also be the day Duterte delivers his fourth State of the Nation Address.

“There’s a specific time frame from the (17th) Congress to the next Congress. We really can’t extend beyond June 7,” Sotto said.

He said under the Constitution, the President cannot just call for a special session when Congress has already adjourned sine die.

Sotto made the remarks after Duterte asked the Senate to pass immediately four bills, including the ROTC bill, the proposed Public Service Act, Foreign Investments Act and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act. 

However, none of the measures may be passed due to lack of time.

The chamber, however, managed to pass or ratify in the last days of the 17th Congress various urgent measures, including the proposal to increase excise taxes on tobacco products; increasing the number of Islamic banks in the country; creation of the country’s space agency and the Philippine Coast Guard hospital; the proposed Community Service Act; agreement of the Philippines and Indonesia on common exclusive economic zone.

Malacañang was unfazed by the Senate’s statement that it has no time to pass the bill reviving mandatory ROTC, one of the priorities of the administration.?Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the next Congress could still pass the measure, which officials had claimed would instill discipline and patriotism among the youth.

“If it lacks time, there is another new Senate coming up so I don’t think that’s a problem,” Panelo said at a press briefing yesterday. “I think the members of the Senate also like this particular bill.” ?Last Monday, Duterte certified the ROTC bill as urgent, a move that would allow Congress to pass the measure on second and final reading on the same day. ?Senate leaders, however, said they might not have enough time to deliberate on the bill before Congress adjourns on June 7. ?Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the President should have certified the ROTC bill earlier so senators would have time to study and debate on it.?Panelo also disputed claims that ROTC is encouraging blind obedience and discouraging critical thinking among students. He said the course not only teaches students how to handle firearms but also contains lectures on law and history. ?He claimed that ROTC is relevant at a time when students are spending a lot of time on gadgets. ?Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde supports a bill seeking the restoration of ROTC.

Albayalde said yesterday the revival of basic military and leadership training for students would benefit the country that will have a larger reserve force to face security threats and also calamities.

ROTC, Albayalde said, will also develop the students’ patriotism and nationalism.

“We should love our country and this is one way of loving our country, by defending it from any external threat,” he said.

While he is not discounting that there could still be corruption in the ROTC program just like in the past, Albayalde said there are measures to ensure the students are protected.

Community service

Sen. Richard Gordon said the passage on third and final reading of the bill seeking to require community service instead of prison time for minor offenders would decongest the jails and avert the humanitarian crisis triggered by the congestion.

The Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill No. 2195 of the Community Service Act, which will promote restorative justice and decongest jails by authorizing the court in its discretion to require community service in lieu of imprisonment for offenses punishable by term ranging from one day to six months. 

The bill, sponsored by Gordon, provides that community service shall consist of any actual physical activity which inculcates civic consciousness and is intended for improvement of a public work or promotion of a public service.

However, the privilege of rendering community service in lieu of jail time can be availed of only once.

If the defendant violates the terms of community service, the court shall order his re-arrest and the defendant serve the full term of the penalty, as the case may be, in jail. However, if the defendant has fully complied with the terms of the community service, the court shall order the release of the defendant unless detained for some other offense.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Admiral Elson Hermogino expressed his gratitude to senators for passing Senate Bill 8833 also known as the “Act Establishing and Constructing the Philippine Coast Guard Hospital.”

Some 21 senators approved the measure that was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito. 

The PCG said the creation of a hospital would provide comprehensive and total health care services to the estimated 12,000 Coast Guard personnel and their dependents and retired uniformed personnel and family members.

The Sagip Saka law or Republic Act 11321 seeks higher incomes for farmers and fisherfolk through entrepreneurship, said Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday, the last session day of the 17th Congress.

Pangilinan said Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data in 2015 showed that farmers and fishermen posted the highest poverty incidences at 34.3 percent and 34 percent. In 2017, the country’s agricultural workers were paid an average nominal wage rate of P280.37 per day.

He said this measure is a 2016 campaign promise fulfilled and the next step is full implementation.

Pangilinan said Sagip Saka (Republic Act 11321) seeks higher incomes for farmers and fisherfolk through entrepreneurship by requiring government agencies to purchase produce and harvests directly from food producers, eliminating middlemen that raise food prices.

HR advocates ?

Rights advocates lauded the passing of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Bill on third and final reading by the House of Representatives.

“Everyone’s right to defend and uphold human rights is in peril. In the context of a repressive government’s non-stop suppression of people’s rights, we welcome this development as a long overdue measure for the protection of the people’s right to defend human rights. This comes at a most critical time when human rights defenders and activists are being killed, tortured, disappeared, illegally arrested, criminalized and slapped with trumped-up charges and harassed in myriad ways,” said Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.

“Since 2007, a proposed measure has already been filed. We know this is an uphill battle, but for human rights defenders, we are determined to see this through,” said Palabay, citing that since 2001, 58 human rights workers of Karapatan have been killed in the course of their work as HRDs.

House Bill 9199 is complemented by the same initiative in the Senate, with Sen. Leila de Lima’s filing of Senate Bill No. 1699.

With one session day left before the closing of the 17th Congress, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill had gained new allies and wider acceptance among policymakers and the public. 

Hontiveros said the bill seeks to penalize discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or SOGIE. 

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