Senate passes 5 bills amid pork barrel controversy

By , on June 9, 2014


Sen. Grace Poe - Llamanzares. Photo from Poe's official Facebook page.
Sen. Grace Poe – Llamanzares. Photo from Poe’s official Facebook page.

MANILA – The Senate on Monday lived up on its promise to focus on its legislative work amid the pork barrel scam, passing on third and final reading six bills, including four aimed at advancing public health, promoting competitiveness in the banking sector and improving consumer protection.

Voting 18-0 with no abstention, the Senate approved Senate Bill No. 27, or the “Picture Based Health Warnings Law”; Senate Bill No. 2273, or the “Act Amending Sec. 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act”; Senate Bill No. 2159, or the “Act Liberalizing the Entry and Scope of Operations of Foreign Banks in the Philippines”; and, Senate Bill No. 2211, or the “Act Strengthening Consumer Protection in the Purchase of Brand New Vehicles.”

The Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1281, declaring August 18 as “Jesse Robredo Day,” a special working holiday commemorating the late public servant and House Joint Resolution No. 12, declaring July 27, 2014 as a non-working holiday “to commemorate the founding anniversary of the Iglesia Ni Cristo.”

“The approval of six bills, including four landmark legislation, shows that legislation remains the Senate’s focus, and that we are able to effectively deliver on our commitment to pass bills that will raise the quality of life for the Filipinos,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

The Picture-Based Health Warning Act, authored by Sen. Pia Cayetano, will require tobacco companies to display pictured-based health warnings in full color with accompanying text warnings on 50 percent of their principal display surfaces of cigarette packs.

Under the bill, cigarette packages are prohibited from “bearing any descriptors or numbers such as, but not limited to ‘low tar,’ ‘light,’ ‘ultra-light,’ or ‘mild’ or ‘extra’ or ‘ultra’ and similar terms that claims or misleads a consumer to believe that a tobacco product or variant is healthier, safe or less harmful.”

The bill also states that “no cigarette packs or other tobacco packages shall contain information that may imply that one variant or brand is healthier, less harmful or safer than the other.”

Cayetano said the imposition of graphic health warnings at the front part of cigarette packages is aimed at deterring smokers from “starting the vice and being addicted to it as well as encourage existing smokers to drop the habit.”

She said the warnings will show the dangers of tobacco smoking or passive smoking.

Drilon, co-author and co-sponsor of the measure, said it was necessary to address the “estimated P188 billion in annual health care expenses and productivity losses that cigarette smoking is responsible for.”

Drilon said the text warning accompanying the picture would be appropriately worded “so that an ordinary layman will understand what the picture is about — the ill-effects of smoking.”

Filed by Senators Gregorio Honasan II, Joseph Victor Estrada, Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada, with Senator Grace Poe sponsoring the measure, and Senator Vicente Sotto serving as co-sponsor, SBN 2273 pushes for “crucial amendments to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (Republic Act No. 9165, as amended) to strengthen the country’s fight against the drug menace and catch perpetrators.”

Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said the bill specifically pertained to the preservation of evidence in seized illegal drugs.

“The current law requires that inventory of seized dangerous drugs must take place at the police station,” she added.

Once enacted into law, Poe said “inventory of seized dangerous drugs can take place at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team and shall not render void and invalid,”

Poe said, adding that the introduction of an amendment would also allow two witnesses to be present during the conduction of a drug inventory, an elected public official and a media or DOJ representative, instead of requiring all three to be present during the inventory as witnesses.

SBN 2159, on the other hand, seeks to expand the participation of qualified foreign banks in the Philippines’ financial sector “to allow our economy and our people to reap the benefits therefrom.”

The bill was also co-authored by Senators Cynthia Villar and Sergio Osmena III, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies.

Osmeña said the measure would allow the increase in foreign ownership of domestic banks to up to 100 percent without time limit and permits the entry of “established, reputable and financially sound foreign banks” in the country.

The bill also grants locally incorporated subsidiaries of foreign banks “the same banking privileges as domestic banks of the same category.”

Osmeña said that the measure would give the Philippines a chance to step ahead and take advantage of the economic integration of the ASEAN region, in light of the ASEAN Banking Integration Framework to be implemented in 2020.

“Greater foreign participation in the banking and financial sectors is expected to augment the financial resources to which the Philippine economy may have access, thus supporting the initiatives of the present administration in implementing various infrastructure projects and rehabilitation programs,” Osmena said.

Sponsored by Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship Chairman Sen. Paulo Benigno Aquino IV, SBN 2211 or the Lemon Law, “seeks to protect consumers in the sale of motor vehicles against sales and trade practices that are deceptive, unfair or otherwise inimical to the consumers and the public interest.”

SBN 2211 is a consolidation of several bills filed by Senators Villar and Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III is a co-author of the bill.

Lemon Law is derived from the western idiom wherein “buying lemon” refers to the purchase of a vehicle that constantly gives problems or a substandard product.

Under the bill, vehicles will have a warranty of “12 months from the date of the original delivery to the consumer or up to 20,000 kilometers of operation after delivery, whichever comes first.”

“Penalty for a manufacturer, distributor or dealer who violates the prohibition on resale disclosure shall be liable to pay a minimum amount of P100,000 as damages to the aggrieved party without prejudice to any civil or criminal liability they and/or the responsible officer may incur under existing laws,” Aquino said.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved SBN 1281 or the “Jesse Robredo Day” which declares August 18 as a special working holiday in honor of the late Interior and Local Government secretary. The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Pia Cayetano.

Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, who filed the bill, said Robredo was an exceptional Filipino who won numerous awards and “embodied what a public servant should be.”

Also approved was House Joint Resolution No. 12 declaring July 27, 2014 as a non-working holiday “to commemorate the founding anniversary of the Iglesia Ni Cristo.”

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, who introduced the measure, said that large number of Iglesia ni Cristo members will gather from all over the world to take part in their centennial celebration on July 27. The day, they added, should be declared as a non-working holiday to commemorate the event.