Jan 27, 2013

Philippines - Aquino to feuding senators: Get to work

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DAVOS — President Aquino has appealed to the feuding senators to set aside their money quarrel for a few days and focus on crucial legislation such as reforms to the antimoney laundering law.

Refraining from taking sides in the controversy over Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s cash gifts to fellow senators, the President said his interest was in accomplishing as much as possible in the legislative arena—given that there were a few remaining session days in Congress.

“Our interest is that we need these laws to be able to govern better and we don’t want to start from square one,” Aquino told the Filipino media on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum here.

Congress will go on recess in February to give way to the campaign period for the midterm senatorial and local elections in May.

Mr. Aquino said there were so many pending measures awaiting prompt action. “The bottom line is if these are not passed by the current Congress, in the next Congress you will have to go back to the committees and go again through first, second and third readings. (It’s) back to square one,” he said.

“So actually paguwi ko, makikiusap ako sa ating coequal branch na puede ba tayong mag-concentrate, na itabi muna natin yun ating personal issues. Merong issues ang bansa na kailangang asikasuhin [So when I get back, I will appeal to our coequal (government) branch for them to concentrate, to set aside personal issues. There are national issues that need their attention],” he said.

Respectful tone

But Aquino said he would make such an appeal “with a very respectful tone to a coequal branch.”
“But, again, in the last three days (of the remaining Congress session), there are several measures that hopefully will be passed because they really are at such an advanced stage of creation,” he said.

Aside from the bill seeking to strengthen the law against dirty money, Mr. Aquino cited the human rights compensation bill as another piece of crucial legislation.

On the third amendment to the antimoney laundering law, he said the Philippines would have to meet the deadline set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

“We have deadlines to meet and we don’t want to be a hindrance to our ability to really participate in the world financial market and the furtherance of our economic objectives,” he said.

The Paris-based FATF is an intergovernmental organization initiated by the world’s richest nations under the G-7 group to develop cross-border policies to combat money laundering and terror financing.

On the freedom of information (FOI) bill, the President said it would be a tough call for him to certify it as urgent at this stage. The bill has just come out of the committee level and has yet to be presented for plenary debate.

Meanwhile, the controversy in the Senate over how their funds were used continued.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III last week filed Senate Resolution No. 930 urging a review of policies on the creation of oversight committees for the purpose of cutting down on expenses and saving taxpayer money.

Abolish oversight panels

In his resolution, Pimentel indicated his preference for the abolition of the oversight committees, giving their functions to the existing regular committees of the Senate.

“[There] is a need to review and to rationalize the manner by which the Senate has been creating and budgeting for oversight committees, not only in order to minimize internal squabbling over Senate resources, but more importantly to help ease the Filipino taxpayers’ burden by the more efficient use of taxpayer money,” Pimentel said in the proposed resolution.

Oversight committees monitor the executive branch’s implementation of laws passed by Congress.

There were 35 oversight committees in 2012, some of them with huge budget allocations.

The General Appropriations Act of 2012 showed that aside from the congressional commission on oversight of agricultural modernization (allocation P37.8 million), other oversight committees with huge allocations included the congressional commission on science and technology and engineering (P36 million); the congressional oversight committee on labor and employment (P28.3 million); the joint congressional power commission (P25 million), and the legislative oversight committee on the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (P18.1 million).

With a report from Norman Bordadora

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