Since the 16th Congress convened in July 2013, the Senate has passed 44 proposed measures of national importance - of which 17 became laws in 2014 and four in 2013.
“These laws we passed reflect the government's commitment to address the most basic and pressing concerns of our countrymen which include education, health, social reform package, consumer protection, and our ability to prepare for the dangers of upcoming emergencies,” said Drilon.
Out of the 21 laws, three were aimed at widening access to education, by eliminating major deterrents, according to Drilon. These include Republic Act (RA) No. 10648, known as the"Iskolar ng Bayan Act," which gives automatic admission and provision of scholarship grants by all state colleges and universities to public high school students who belong to the top ten places of their graduating classes; RA 10650 which widens access to tertiary education by institutionalizing open distance learning; and RA 10647 which strengthens ladderized interface between technical-vocational education and training and higher education in the country.
“The education sector and the students are the biggest winners in the laws that we have passed, considering their immense benefits to countless out-of-school Filipino youth." Drilon said.
“Through the enactment of these laws, we are confident that we will finally remove the traditional barriers to the effective delivery of education throughout the country, namely poverty, distance and age,” he then stressed.
Drilon added that there are two more pro-students laws awaiting congressional approval. These include Senate Bill (SB) No. 2277 that seeks to establish the Open High School System in the country and SB 2226 that aims to prevent the commercialization of student-athletes.
On social services, Drilon pointed to RA 10645 or the Mandatory Philhealth Coverage for All Senior Citizens, which entitles all senior citizens to avail of Philhealth benefits for their medical expenses; and RA 10649, which doubles the the burial assistance for military veterans from P10,000 to P20,000.
"We have passed these laws to advance the state of social services in the country, particularly to those who need our care the most, like the elderly and the sick,” said Drilon.
He also said that the upper chamber also passed on third reading Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 which increases the subsistence allowance of all personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippine and the Philippines National Police from P90 to P150 per day; as well as Senate Joint Resolution No. 10 which extends the period for filing of claims for repatriation of Martial Law victims.
In addition to the host of laws and bills passed by Congress, the Senate chief said the chambers also passed the bill increasing the tax exemption limit of 13th month pay and other bonuses from P30,000 to P82,000 in order to reflect the current consumer price index, and SB 2414 strengthening the country’s campaign against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and ensure our compliance with our obligations under international conventions and standards.
On economic development, the Congress passed RA 10641 which liberalizes the entry of foreign banks in the country, by allowing foreign banks to acquire and invest up to 100% of the voting stock of a domestic bank, or to establish branches with full banking authority, and by lifting the limitation on the number of foreign banks that can operate in the country.
The Congress likewise enacted RA 10644 or the Go Negosyo Act to improve the ease of doing business, especially for small and medium businesses.
Early this year, the Congress passed a law establishing the Maritime Industry Authority as the country’s single maritime administration to comply with the international standards. The Congress’ swift approval of the law helped protect the employment of 80,000 Filipino seafarers based in Europe from losing their job, noted Drilon.
It also passed RA 10643 which requires graphic health warning on cigarette packages, RA 10639 that mandates telecommunications services to send free mobile alerts in the event of a disaster, RA 10642 which protects consumers against sale of defective vehicles, and RA 1063 that extends the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years.
"As I have told our countrymen in the beginning of the 2nd session of the 16th Congress, we needed to prove that the Senate is still deserving of the respect of the people as a democratic institution. Thus, we have passed laws that will help the poor, widen the delivery of education and other social services and improve the economy," Drilon said.
According to the Senate leader, the public is "steadily being made aware of the Senate's efforts to reform itself and introduce positive changes to the country," as evident in the latest survey by the Pulse Asia, which pegged the performance approval rating of the Senate at 42 percent, a far cry from the 33 percent approval rate it garnered last June.