Sotto vows to uphold Senate independence after seeking SC ruling on treaty abrogation

Robie de Guzman   •   March 10, 2020   •   575

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday vowed to uphold the Senate’s independence above political alliances, a day after he and his fellow senators filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to rule on whether on not the upper chamber has a role in the abrogation of treaties previously concurred on.

Sotto and five other senators on Monday formally submitted a petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, asking the SC to define if a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of its members upon its withdrawal.

The petition was filed after President Rodrigo Duterte in February ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to notify the United States of the Philippines’ intention to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was signed between Manila and Washington in 1999.

Sotto said the legal move was meant to “assert the sense of the power of the Senate that we know and we think that we have.”

He maintained that senators must be consulted on vital matters like the termination of international agreements and treaties just as its concurrence is required before the same are ratified.

“This role is particularly important to ensure that the power to forge partnerships with our neighbors and allies remains impartial. The Senate must do its part in protecting the checks and balances in our government,” Sotto said.

He also set aside concerns that he could lose his alliance with Malacañang because of the Senate’s action.

“Personal interests should never outweigh public welfare. I will always choose to fight for the independence of the Senate. That is the legacy that I would like to leave this institution when my term comes to an end,” he said.

Duterte, on the other hand, said he could not be compelled by the SC and will stand by his decision to terminate the military pact with the US.

“They cannot compel me. I refuse to be compelled. I have terminated it, tapos ang problema ko,” he said in a press briefing late Monday.

Senate probe on PhilHealth issues to push through despite 2-week lockdown — Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   August 3, 2020

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said that the scheduled investigation into allegations of “widespread corruption” in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will still push through despite a possible lockdown of the Senate building.

The Senate is set to convene as a Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, August 4 to delve into reports of alleged corruption in PhilHealth.

“Hearings will not be covered by our ‘ECQ’. Tuloy [ang] PhilHealth [probe] tomorrow,” Sotto said in a message to reporters.

Earlier, sources said that the Senate will be placed on a two-week lockdown in support of the medical workers’ plea for timeout.

The Senate leader said the hearing will be conducted in a “hybrid” setup, which means that senators’ physical and virtual attendance will be acknowledged.

Resource persons invited to the hearing, however, will be required to physically appear in the Senate.

Among those invited to face in the probe is PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales.

“We seek to get the answers to the questions of how and where these funds were spent. The important thing, the bottom line is we need to amend the law. Apparently, we need to amend the law creating PhilHealth to prevent similar occurrences in the future,” Sotto said.

Also invited to the hearing are PhilHealth Board Member Alejandro Cabading, former Head Executive Assistant Estrobal Laborte, and resigned Atty. Thorsson Montes Kieth, who claimed there is widespread corruption in the agency. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senate opens 2nd regular session of 18th Congress

Robie de Guzman   •   July 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, July 27 opened its second regular session of the 18th Congress ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address set to be delivered later in the afternoon.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III opened the session around 10 a.m. with 17 senators physically present at the session hall while six others participated through video conference.

“I open the second regular session of the 18th Congress of the Senate with a sense of urgency and a purpose. As long as we share the burden of the COVID pandemic with other countries of the world, we must continue to work towards saving lives and easing our common anxiety. This truth is unavoidable,” Sotto said in his speech.

“The Senate has promptly responded to the needs of our nation. Still, the Senate is ready to do more,” he added.

He also vowed that the Senate will continue to work on several priority measures in response to the crisis brought about by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

These measures include the strengthening of the country’s public transport system, digital landscape as it transitions to new normal, distance learning for students amid the public health crisis and initiatives to help distressed enterprises to recover from the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic.

In a separate statement, Sotto said the Senate is also expected to pass the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which was passed on second reading before the sine die adjournment last month.

The measure seeks to extend the powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte under Republic Act No. 11469 to carry out national policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate is also expected to pass the repackaged Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), formerly the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), to help businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises badly hit by the pandemic, rebuild, recover and retain jobs for their employees.

Other priority measures the Senate President is pushing are the Medical Scholarship Act, Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority Act, Hybrid Election Act, Anti-False Content Act and the 14th Month Pay law. The Senate will also tackle the Expanded Solo Parents Act, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, amendments to Public Service Act and the Agrarian or Agriculture Credit Cooperative Condonation Act, among others.

In previous years, senators would open their session at the Senate Building in Pasay in the morning before travelling to the Batasang Pambansa, the headquarters of the House of Representatives in Quezon City in the afternoon to attend the president’s SONA.

But due to the pandemic, only eight of the 24 senators will be physically witnessing this year’s SONA. These are Sotto, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Francis Tolentino, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Sherwin Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano, and Ramon Bong Revilla.

The Senate and House of Representatives will hold a joint session at 4 p.m. Monday at the Batasang Pambansa to hear the president’s address. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Several senators laud signing of Anti-Terror Act despite oppositions

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators have lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite oppositions coming from different sectors.

“Much credit goes to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered the most,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Friday.

“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president,” he added.

Lacson, one of the principal authors and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, vowed that he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also expressed elation over the enactment of the controversial bill.

“I am glad that the president has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law!” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Francis Tolentino also called the signing of the law as “very timely” and “historic” as the nation needed the measure.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19,” he added.

The new law repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

The measure allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to 24 days without warrant. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets and accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.

Before it was enacted, the bill was met with widespread opposition from different groups who raised concern over its provisions that could be abused by authorities, stifle dissent and spur human rights violations.

But Sotto said the law has enough safeguards to prevent enforcers from abusing their authority.

“It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists,” Sotto said.

Lacson has repeatedly defended the measure, saying it has enough protection to ensure the rights of those detained.

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