Senate goes on break, resumes for Impeachment Court

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A press release by the Senate of the Philippines, March 24, 2011

Congress goes on six-week break starting today, March 24, and will resume its regular sessions on May 9 in time for the Senate to start the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Since it resumed its session last January, the Senate approved on third reading five bills, namely the proposed GOCC Governance Act, the proposed Career Executive System Act, a bill Decriminalizing Vagrancy, and two proposed amendments to the Family Code.

The GOCC Governance Act of 2011 (SBN 2640), sponsored by Sen. Franklin Drilon, aims to reform the structure and operations of GOCCs to exact from them efficient and effective public service. It also proposes the creation of the Government Commission for GOCCs (GCG) as a central advisory and oversight body.

The Career Executive System Act (SBN 2671) seeks to strengthen the bureaucracy by professionalizing the ranks of government managers and executives. Authored by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the bill seeks to minimize political appointments and ensure that all government officials are eligible under the Civil Service Law.

Another measure that was approved was a bill Decriminalizing Vagrancy (SBN 2726), sponsored by Sen. Francis Escudero. The measure proposes to remove vagrancy as a criminal offense in the Revised Penal Code because it is "often used to take advantage of people who cannot really stand up for themselves."
Senate Bill No. 480 amends Article 3 of the Family Code which states that a "spouse of age" has the right to dispose exclusive properties without the consent of the other spouse. Under the proposed bill, the term "spouse of age" is to be replaced by the term "either spouse" as it is superfluous, since a spouse must "necessarily be of age to enter into a contract of marriage," according to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Likewise, Senate Bill No. 1052 amends Article 26 of the Family Code, stating that "where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse (capacitating him or her to remarry), the Filipino spouse shall likewise have the capacity to remarry under Philippine law."

These two amendments to the Family Code (SBN 480 and 1052) are now both pending in the House of Representatives.

Five Senate bills are also pending on second reading. These are the proposed Foster Care Act of 2010 (SBN 2486), the proposed Expanded Anti-trafficking in Persons Act of 2010 (SBN 2625), the Nightwork Prohibition of Women Employees bill (SBN 2701), the proposed Meat Labeling Act of 2011 (BN 2746) and the proposed Corporate Social Responsibility Act (SBN 2747).

The Senate also initiated inquiries in aid of legislation. Climate Change Committee Chair Sen. Loren Legarda started to conduct an inquiry into the status and preparedness of our national and local government agencies' disaster risk reduction and management plans in the light of the recent disasters that struck Japan.

The Senate Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations or Blue Ribbon Committee also conducted an inquiry into the plea bargaining agreement between government prosecutors and former AFP Comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia, who is accused of plunder. During the course of the investigation, the alleged "pabaon system" of high-ranking military officials was uncovered.

Even with the Senate going on a six-week break, preparations for the impeachment proceedings are already underway after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Gutierrez last Monday and transmitted the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.

In preparation of the impeachment proceedings, the Senate adopted Resolution No. 432 or the Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials. Authored by Committee on Rules Chair Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, the Rules of Procedure was patterned after the Rules of Procedure used during former Pres. Joseph Estrada's impeachment trial.

Once the Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials is published, the Senate will convene as an impeachment court with the senators taking oath as judges. The Senate will then give the officer to be impeached ample time to reply.

"We will do what we have to do as Senators of the Republic under our oath to do justice to people who come to us. That's my oath. And I'm not going to be a party to just do harm to somebody if she is innocent. If she is guilty, then so be it. That's my concept of justice," Enrile said. According to Enrile, the Senate will not neglect its legislative work and will continue to hold public hearings during the impeachment proceedings.

"As far as the schedule of trial that we will put in the Rules, we agreed among ourselves that we will hold sessions in the morning and hold trials four days a week, Mondays to Thursdays," the Senate President said.