Congress must recall Maharlika bill to correct errors, ex-Senate presidents say

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Congress must recall Maharlika bill to correct errors, ex-Senate presidents say
Combination photo of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and former Sens. Franklin Drilon and Tito Sotto.
Release / Senate PRIB / Bibo Nueva España, Facebook / Sen. Franklin Drilon and The STAR / Mong Pintolo, File photo

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:45 p.m.) — Three former Senate presidents said Thursday the only way to rectify apparent errors in the bill seeking to create the Maharlika Investment Fund is for Congress to recall its approval instead of letting legislative staff make corrections which they warn may lead to legal consequences.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and former Sens. Franklin Drilon and Tito Sotto all said legislative staff have no power to correct mistakes in the Maharlika bill, particularly the two sections that provide for different prescriptive periods for offenses committed under the proposed law.

The finessing being done by the Senate secretariat has kept the bill from being transmitted to Malacañang for President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.’s approval.

‘Imprimatur needed’

But Pimentel, Drilon and Sotto separately said the Maharlika fund bill must be sent back to plenary where the corrections should be made.

“Congress’s imprimatur is needed to rectify the MIF. The discrepancies and ambiguities found in the approved bill cannot be corrected without the risk of falsification of legislative documents,” Pimentel said.

Article 170 of the Revised Penal Code provides that any unauthorized person who alters any bill, resolution or ordinance by either chamber of Congress shall be punished with six years imprisonment and a fine of up to P1.2 million.

“Recalling the approval of the MIF and returning it to the floor is the sole remedy left for Congress if it is to correct and clarify the discrepancies and ambiguous provisions in the MIF,” Pimentel said. “There is no shortcut.”

Drilon and Sotto said the Senate secretariat can only correct typographical and clerical errors and cannot make other changes to any bill, like the provisions on the differing prescriptive periods.

“They should send it back to plenary. That’s where they should retouch it,” Sotto said in Filipino in a phone interview with Senate reporters. “That’s where they should change what they want to change and approve it again on third reading.”

Drilon also suggested that the bill be remanded back to plenary, but added that this can only be done when Congress is in session. The legislature has adjourned sine die and will not convene until July 24.

‘Not yet an enrolled bill’

The third reading copy of the Maharlika fund bill provided to reporters by Sen. Mark Villar’s office has two sections on the prescriptive period of offenses committed under the proposed law, one of which provides for a 10-year period, and another providing for a 20-year period.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, however, has said that the Senate secretariat can still correct errors in the measure as long as it is not yet an enrolled bill.

An enrolled bill is the final version of a legislative proposal that has been certified as correct by the secretary of the Senate and the secretary general of the House of Representatives, and signed by the Senate president and the House speaker.

In this case, Villanueva said, there is no enrolled bill yet as the secretariat is still rectifying errors in the measure, including two sections that provide for different prescriptive periods.

Villanueva said Villar, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, has written to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri through Senate Secretary Renato Bantug for the secretariat to look into the errors and for the enrolled bill to reflect what was approved in plenary.

But as of Tuesday, Villar’s office said he has not yet signed any letter to Zubiri.

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