SENATE President Vicente Sotto III gave assurances at the weekend that the chamber can still tackle its packed legislative agenda even as senators are set to start countrywide sorties after filing certificates of candidacy for various posts in the 2022 elections.

In a media exchange after visiting several locations in Cabuyao, Laguna, with Senator Panfilo Lacson, Sotto acknowledged that the Senate faces a heavy load when sessions resume Monday (November 8), but assured the public that senators are all responsible enough to juggle their work and their political outreach.

Senate President Sotto is the vice presidential  running mate of Lacson, the standard bearer of Partido Reporma.

Asked how the Senate leadership will deal with potential quorum problems when he reconvenes regular sessions given several senators are on a de facto campaign mode as aspirants for various posts, Sotto said he left it to the senators concerned to fix their schedule. However, he expected everyone to cram their trips during weekends so they can fully participate in the weekday sessions.

“Well, it’s everybody’s own [call]. Each one of them…because it means we have work to do,” Sotto said, adding he is calling a caucus Monday because “we have work to do.”

The Senate leader said senators will “discuss and decide our agenda,” including the budget bill and fix the session schedule “until Thursday or Friday.”

Senate President Sotto clarified it is “incumbent upon all of us to go to work…if you want to campaign, you arrange your hours accordingly. Because, of course, work must come first. That’s what we set out to do,” he said, partly in Filipino.

At the same time, the Senate leader said he is set to meet  officials of the Department of Health Services and the Office of the Senate Secretary to discuss the allowable “social distance” with media covering Senate

For his part, Lacson affirmed Senate President Sotto’s assurance that the Senate will function “100 percent even though several members are running” in next year’s polls.

“This is why we decided to do the sorties on weekends,” Lacson said, adding they opted to “sacrifice our weekends to ensure we are in attendance at the session hall during weekdays.”

They adjusted their trips “because we do not want to affect the Senate plenary proceedings…We don’t want to be affected, especially him [Sotto] as Senate President, he is always the one presiding. So we will still focus on our primary tasks as legislators.”

Unfinished business

Last week, several local and foreign business groups renewed their calls for Congress to pass the priority economic reform bills when sessions resume.

The business chambers asked legislators to complete passage of the bills that they said can boost the post-pandemic economic recovery.

They cited the amendments to the Public Service Act; Department of Water Resources Management; Ease of Paying Taxes bill; Freedom of Information; Open Access in Data Transmission; and Philippine Creative Industries.

The business groups also listed measures on the promotion of digital payments; amendments to Secrecy of Bank Deposits Law; and Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act.

They also asked lawmakers to fast-track passage of tax reform packages in property valuation and assessment; and passive income and financial intermediary taxation.

“Most of these 11 reform bills have reached advanced stages in either chamber of Congress and only require counterpart action in the other chamber,” the business groups said in their statement on November 3.

However, they have a caveat in the amendatory legislation to the Public Service Act. The business groups and foreign chambers opposed the inclusion “of any provision in the pending Senate version, SB [Senate Bill] 2094, that expands the legislative franchise requirement to public services beyond those provided under existing laws.”

The groups are also hoping for the early ratification of these bills under the bicameral conference committees: Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations Act, Foreign Investment Act amendments and National Transportation Safety Board creation.

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