Last-two minutes

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Even with just having a little over one month remaining in his term, it is not too late for President Rodrigo Duterte to correct the inequities in the government service. Spending his last few weeks in office at Malacanang Palace, President Duterte has signed several pieces of very important laws and Executive Orders (EO).

Although these were signed during his last few weeks in office, these statutes and Executive fiats cannot be considered “midnight laws” that usually connote something sinister. Some of these were signed a month ago but were released by Malacanang for the public dissemination only last Monday.

Now in the middle of the transition, the outgoing Duterte administration will turn over these new laws and the reins of the Executive Branch to the next administration under presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

President Duterte signed two of these new laws both on the same day last April 13. And in these two new laws, the direct beneficiaries are all workers of the government, the civilian employees on one hand, and the uniformed personnel on the other.

First of, the President signed into law Republic Act (RA) 11701 that grants night shift differential pay to government employees, including those in government-owned and - controlled corporations (GOCCs). Subsequently, the President signed RA No. 11709 that sets a fixed term for key military officials and increases the mandatory retirement age of generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

RA 11701 mandates that all government employees occupying position items from division chief and below, or their equivalent, including those in GOCCs, whether the nature of their employment is permanent, contractual, temporary or casual, shall be paid night shift differential. This new law does not cover government employees whose office hours fall between six in the morning and six in the evening and those whose services are required 24 hours, including uniformed personnel from the AFP; the Philippine National Police  (PNP); the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology; the Bureau of Fire Protection, and others similarly situated.

Before bowing out as the Commander-in-chief of the AFP, President Duterte delivered one of the campaign promises he made during the May, 2016 presidential elections. President Duterte has signed into law a measure prescribing a fixed three-year term of duty for the AFP chief of staff and other top military officials.

This new law would finally do away with the so-called “revolving door” policy that was seen as a ploy of the appointing authority to exact loyalty from the military. The practice started during the previous administration of the late president Corazon Aquino whose administration suffered several military coup d’etats. Former Marine Commandant Rodolfo Biazon was the first AFP chief of staff who served only for three months after he reached the mandatory age of retirement of 56 years old.

Still waging the battle against corruption, President Duterte invoked his Executive powers to issue a directive that would deeply cut into red tape as breeding ground for grafters in government. In EO No. 170 signed last May 12, the President has ordered the adoption of digital payments for government disbursements and collections. EO 170 mandated the entire Executive departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the government, including state universities and colleges, GOCCs as well as local governments units (LGUs) “to offer a digital mode of collecting payments for taxes, fees, tolls, and other charges and impositions.”

The outgoing President cited the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the benefits of digital payment services “as it enabled a fast, convenient, secure and transparent mode of delivering government services and transacting business.” The acceptance of cash and other traditional modes of payment may still continue though, EO 170 clarified.

President Duterte also signed on May 6 four other Congress-approved bills of national application. These were, namely:

– RA 11765 otherwise known as the “Financial Products and Services Consumer Protection Act;”

– RA No. 11766 amending two provisions of the 2013 Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act that extended the validity period of the registration of and the license to possess firearms.

– RA 11767, or the Foundling Recognition and Protection Act that provided for greater protection to deserted or abandoned children and recognizing them as natural-born Filipinos;

– RA 11768 amending the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Act of 2016 providing the elected SK officials monthly honoraria and allocating funds for various programs.

Other than these new laws of national applications, a lot more of local bills that were approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives may have already been either signed by the President, or were lapsed into law without his signature. These local bills range from renaming or upgrading public schools and state-run universities, government hospitals and other public buildings and changing the names of streets, cities, towns, municipalities etc.

There could also be quite a number of Congress-approved bills that might not see the light of day as casualties of presidential veto. Let’s wait and see.

It goes without saying that concerned officials at Malacanang will later on release to the public the other newly signed laws for widest public dissemination. After all, it requires publication in the Official Gazette and newspapers of national circulation before these new laws become effective.

Borrowing a term in basketball game, the “last two-minutes” should not stop the outgoing Chief Executive from enacting landmark laws. These would form part of the legacy of laws passed by the 17th and the 18th Congress that served together with him in these past six years.

Hopefully, President-elect Marcos Jr., who is the duly elected successor of President Duterte, would also sustain his Executive fiats and ensure the implementation of the new laws of the land, at least the good ones.


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