With just 9 session days in 2013, Senate to prioritize 2 bills, drop Chacha

With just nine session days left in the 15th Congress in 2013, the Senate may prioritize two crucial bills and likely abandon moves to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Sunday they will also move to finish ongoing investigations into issues such as rice smuggling and anomalies in the president’s bridge program.

“Pagkatapos ng nine session days magre-recess agad before the election at babalik kami sa June before the end of the 15th Congress,” Enrile said in an interview on dzBB radio.

The Senate's legislative calendar indicates senators will resume session on Jan. 21, and will adjourn on Feb. 9.

While they will resume session on June 3, they will adjourn on June 7.

Enrile said they will likely prioritize the anti-trust bill and the final amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act in 2013.

When asked if they can finish tackling the AMLA amendments on time, he said, “Palagay ko naman.” AMLA amendments

The amendments to the AMLA are needed to keep the Philippines from being blacklisted by the Paris-based international regulating body Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Last October, the Senate failed to pass the amendments to the AMLA. While the FATF kept the Philippines on its gray list, Malacañang said this came with a “reminder” to pass the amended AMLA soonest.

In an interview on government-run dzRB radio last October, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that while the FATF kept the Philippines in the gray list, it “urged us also to adopt the third measure for us to be compliant with international standards.”

She said the third amendment has something to do with increasing the number of predicate crimes for money laundering, “to ensure (Philippine) systems are on par with international standards.”

Last June, the FATF upgraded the Philippines from the dark gray to the gray list, after Congress passed two of three laws the FATF had sought.

These included one waiving the requirement for the Anti-Money Laundering Council to inform suspected money launderers that their bank deposits are being monitored; and another that criminalized giving money to known terrorists.

A third amendment the FATF wants is increasing the number of predicate crimes that would prompt the monitoring of suspicious bank accounts.

Including the Philippines on the black list may mean transactions with Filipino individuals and companies might be scrutinized more strictly, on suspicion these could involve laundered money.

Such scrutiny is seen to affect remittances of overseas Filipino workers. Sen. Sergio Osmeña III warned this may even mean delayed remittances due to the scrutiny.

But Enrile had said the FATF cannot dictate on member countries that gave it the power to regulate anti-money laundering activities.

In Sunday’s interview, Enrile also said the Senate will complete its investigations into the smuggling of rice and the irregularities in the Presidential Bridge Program.

He also said senators in the Commission on Appointments will tackle the confirmation of Cabinet members including Secretaries Leila de Lima (Justice), Ramon Paje (Environment) and Corazon Soliman (Social Welfare), as well as elections commissioner Gracia Cielo Padaca and Commission on Audit member Heidi Mendoza.

Charter change

On the other hand, Enrile said there may no longer be enough time to discuss Charter change, though he and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had voiced plans to tackle it earlier this year.

“Marahil wala na kaming magagawa sa remaining days ng 15th Congress,” Enrile said.

Senate presidency

Enrile also said he is not discounting the possibility he may be replaced in 2013.

“Marahil kung mananatili ako sa pwesto hanggang June or July ay magkakaroon ng another Senate President, that’s possible,” he said.

Besides, he said he is advancing in age, as he will turn 89 on Feb. 14, 2013.

Eventful 2012, 'satisfactory' performance

Enrile said the Senate had an eventful 2012, which started with senators working overtime as senator-judges in the impeachment trial of now-ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.

He said it was the first time in the country that an impeachment trial was “completed,” without being cut short by external forces.

While former President Joseph Estrada was impeached in 2000 and the Senate acted as an impeachment court, the trial was cut short by a walkout that resulted in the EDSA-2 revolt in 2001.

“Una ito sa kasaysayan ng ating bansa ... at ang proseso ay nakumpleto. Unfortunately it ended in the removal of the highest magistrate of the land, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” Enrile said of the Corona impeachment trial.

After the impeachment trial, he said the Senate tackled the sin tax and budget bills, as well as the controversial Reproductive Health bill. The three bills have been signed into law.

“By and large mahusay ang record ng Senado. Ang mga ibang pangangailangan ng bansa sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa natugunan,” Enrile said. —KG, GMA News