In aid of re-election
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2019 - 12:00am

Before they adjourned for the election campaign period, both chambers of the 17th Congress passed a slew of proposed bills, a number of which were signed into law on various dates by President Rodrigo Duterte. But quite a number also got vetoed by President Duterte due to purported constitutional infirmities and for being inconsistent with his administration’s declared policies.

As of this writing, at least two administration-certified priority bills got the presidential vetoes.

A proposed law submitted for signature of President Duterte that stayed for a long while at his desk, ironically was the subject of petitions for veto. Although there were last minute attempts by affected leaders of rice farmers’ groups against the proposed Rice Tariffication Act, it, however, failed to sway President Duterte into heeding their veto calls.

The rice tariffication, which replaces quantitative rice import restrictions with tariffs, was signed into law by President Duterte last Feb. 14. Coinciding with Valentine’s Day, the President broke the bleeding hearts of those wanting to keep the status quo of the lucrative rice trading in our country.  

Nonetheless, the veto appeals won’t be going to naught as the petitioners can raise and elevate them before the Supreme Court (SC) whatever supposed constitutional infirmities they claim against the newly signed Rice Tariffication Law. Joining the purported farmers’ groups are state employees from the National Food Authority (NFA) who are set to question before the SC the signing of Republic Act  (RA) 11203, or the Rice Import Liberalization law. The NFA Employees Association leaders claimed the newly signed law would mean the removal of thousands of employees as well as the main functions of the state agency.

While there is no actual petition yet lodged before the High Court, there is still an option to seek out Congress override the presidential veto. That is, if they could muster the required votes to do so. Given the history of our past Congresses, there has never been any presidential veto that was overridden. So that avenue is a far-fetched possibility.  

With a large pro-administration members at the House of Representatives led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, talks or threats of overriding a presidential veto might be next to impossible. Mrs. Arroyo is now on her third and last term as Pampanga Congresswoman, coinciding with the end of 17th Congress that is set to wrap up its third and last regular sessions. 

Lawmakers from both chambers are set to report back to Congress on May 19, or a week after the mid-term elections. From that day of resumption, the 17th Congress has barely three weeks of remaining sessions before they go on sine die adjournment on June 7. With a number of administration bills still pending at various stages of the legislative mills, taking up very divisive override of presidential veto measures would be a shot in the dark.

President Duterte has vetoed two proposed laws that would have created a trust fund for coconut farmers and the coconut industry, citing these might violate the country’s 1987 Constitution. In his veto message also dated Feb. 14, President Duterte explained the proposed law as crafted does not reflect the ultimate goal of accelerating the full use of Coco Levy assets and funds to benefit marginalized coconut farmers. 

Like the Rice Tarrification Law, Sen. Cynthia Villar is also the principal author and sponsor of the Coco Levy bill. She chairs the Senate committee on agriculture where she sponsored and shepherded these bills in Congress. Villar, who is up for re-election at the Senate, vowed to re-file the measure in the next Congress to correct whatever constitutional infirmities the bill had in its present form. She, however, rued the vetoed measure would have allowed 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers and their beneficiaries to directly benefit from the P100-billion coconut levy fund.

Although President Duterte signed a tax amnesty under RA No. 11213, the Chief Executive, however, exercised his line-item veto of certain provisions that he found not in conformity with his administration’s original intent – to lift bank secrecy for tax fraud. The Tax Amnesty Act of 2019 grants amnesty to people who failed to pay correct taxes in 2017 and before. The last tax amnesty covered the taxable year 2005 and before.

Like the budget bill, the Constitution empowers the President to exercise line-item veto on tax and tariff bills.

President Duterte signed the tax amnesty law also on Feb. 14 but vetoed some items, including a provision that would have granted general amnesty for all unpaid internal revenue taxes. “Given these, I ask Congress to pass another general tax amnesty bill that includes the lifting of bank secrecy for fraud cases, the inclusion of an automatic exchange of information and safeguards to ensure that asset or net worth declarations are truthful,” the President stated in his veto message.

Despite these vetoed bills, we have not heard much vehement objections from members of the 17th Congress, majority of whom are now busy in the campaign trail either for re-election or running for other elective positions. Is it because they were only too happy that President Duterte signed RA 11027 or the “Act Providing for Reasonable Rates for Political Advertisements, Amending for this Purpose Section 11 of RA No. 9006, Otherwise Known as the ‘Fair Election Act’.”

Also signed on Valentine’s Day, the “cheaper political ads” law gave discounted rates for bona fide political candidates and political parties – 50 percent for television and 40 percent for radio while the rate for print was retained at 10 percent. The rates would be applied based on the average of the published rates the media outlets have charged commercial advertisers in the last three years prior to an election.

Politicians have been decrying what they claim are prohibitive costs of placing political advertisements in TV, radio and print. In aid of re-election comes this shameless legislation.

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