Dateline Manila: Senate approves 2 key legislative measures PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 21 November 2014 11:51

BY Sammy Santos


This corner would like to expressed its profound condolences to the Jesuit community for the recent passing of Fr. Ramon Mores, a pillar of wisdom, kindness and moral strength at the Ateneo de Zamboanga (ADZ) during my student days. Fr. Mores died last Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Fr. Mores served as rector of the ADZ from 1969 to 1971 and then again from 1977 to 1979. He was the last rector and president of the school before the AdZ Board of Regents started to elect its president.

He served in the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome and also served as rector of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro for many years. Of late, Fr. Mores spent his last years in the Sacred Heart Parish and Shrine in Cebu. He was born on November 5, 1928 and joined entered the Society of Jesus on May 30, 1947.

As I mentioned in my Facebook account, Fr. Mores shared with us, then young students in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the principles of non-violent struggle for social justice which gave us the moral courage and inner strength to stand up to the excesses, corruption and human rights abuses of the Marcos Martial Law regime in strife-torn Zamboanga City.

I was a young reporter then and it was a time of living dangerously, highlighted by the brutal assassination of Mayor Cesar Climaco 30 years ago this month.

Wake masses are held at Loyola House of Studies (LHS) in Ateneo de Manila University in Katipunan, Quezon City.  A funeral mass is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday.

We shall cherish the values you shared with us, Fr. Mon Mores.

* * * *

The Senate passed two important pieces of legislation before embarking on the floor deliberations of the proposed P2.606 trillion 2015 national budget last Tuesday, debunking allegations of its critics that it was neglecting its constitutional mandate to pass legislation for policy reforms.

These are the bill that seeks to raise the take-home pay of Filipino workers by increasing the tax exemption cap for 13th month pay and other benefits from the current P30,000 and a joint resolution seeking to extend the deadline for the filing of claims by martial law victims by six months.

Senators said if the bill seeking to increase the tax exemption cap for 13th month pay and other benefits would be passed into law, Filipino workers earning up to P82,000 would also be covered.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, the sponsor of the Senate Bill 2437 and Senate chairman of the ways and means committee, accepted the amendment by Senator Ralph Recto during the plenary deliberations to raise the tax exemption cap to P82,000.

On Tuesday evening, Angara’s bill was approved on second reading and when signed by President Aquino in to law, it would increase the take-home pay of workers by hiking the tax exemption cap for 13th month pay and other benefits from the current P30,000. The original proposal aims to increase the ceiling to only P75,000.

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act 7833, enacted in 1994, which mandates that the 13th month pay and other benefits, such as productivity incentives and Christmas bonuses not exceeding P30,000 given to government and private sector employees shall be tax-free.

Angara said the measure was expected to benefit approximately half a million employees. All senators were made co-authors of SB 2437, which is a consolidation of bills authored by Senators Angara, Ralph Recto and Lito Lapid.

“Given that all of our colleagues in the Senate expressed their willingness to be co-authors of the bill, it clearly indicates that we all want our deserving taxpayers to benefit more from the fruits of their labor – a wonderful Christmas present to our hardworking Filipino workers and their families,” Angara said.

the Senate also passed on third and final reading a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III that seeks to extend the deadline for the filing of claims by martial law victims by six months.

Pimentel, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution No. 10, otherwise known as “Joint Resolution Extending the Period For Filing Of Claims For Reparation Of Human Rights Violations Victims under Republic Act No. 10368, said that the approval of the joint resolution would give martial law victims more time to file their claims for repatriation and compensation. Republic Act 10368 is known as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.

Pimentel said the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) has encountered an unprecedented number of claims from human rights victims. Due to the sheer number of the applications, compounded by the board’s undermanned staff, the board may not be able to accomplish its duties within the period prescribed by law, he noted.

“So as not to duly prejudice our aggrieved countrymen for whom RA 10368 was primarily enacted, and to accord the HRVCB sufficient period to discharge its statutory duty, the HRVCB should be allowed to extend the period to accept human rights victims’ claims for another six months from November 10, 2014 or until May 11, 2015,” Pimentel explained.

According to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a coalition of human rights groups, the HRVCB had received only around 29,000 claims as of October this year. PAHRA chairman Max de Mesa said the board expected about 55,000 to 90,000 more applications to be processed.

De Mesa said there were more than 7,000 undocumented human rights victims from the cursory research conducted by their group, apart from the more than 9,000 Hawaii class suit claimants. “The extension, more than the filing of claim, ensures that all human rights victims will be given access to a means of gaining redress for the sufferings and sacrifices that they endured during the Martial Law,” De Mesa said.

Pimentel, whose father, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. was jailed for opposing dictator President Ferdinand Marcos during the martial law era, said that martial law victims could continue to file their claims for compensation once Senate Joint Resolution 10 and its counterpart, House Joint Resolution 16 would be enacted into law.

Pimentel said he asked the HRVCB to continue accepting claims even after the filing period as prescribed under the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 had elapsed.

* * * *

The passage of the two legislative measures belied the claims of critics that the Senate was attending only to controversial and media-heavy congressional investigations on the City Hall buildings and the Iloilo Convention Center and was neglecting its main duty of pushing for legislative and constitutional reforms.

In fact, records will show that since it began sessions last year, the Senate of the 16th Congress has acted upon 194 proposed measures, and has acted upon 56 resolutions. The legislative quality of these legislation and their benefits to the Filipino people should not be so readily dismissed.

Earlier, the Senate has ratified a package of inclusive education bills geared towards the poor, including one which is seen to provide 80,000 public high school students automatic admission and scholarship to public state universities and colleges as early as next year.

The Senate has further committed to pass a group of pro-economic bills, including the Build-Operate –Transfer Law, in time for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law has also been receiving ample legislative attention, as based on the number of public hearings held by the Senate Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation throughout relevant areas in Mindanao.

With the overwhelming media focus to the actions of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, it is easy to forget that the Senate is continuing on with its priority legislative agenda.

But amid such media spectacle, the Senate is simultaneously working on crafting and passing laws that will improve the Filipino way of life.   If the improvement of public satisfaction ratings for the Senate as reflected by a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey last October is any indication, the public is aware – and supportive -  of such work being done by their senators.