Legislative Process

Preliminary Procedures

The procedures for introducing legislation and seeing it through committees are similar in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Legislative proposals originate in a number of different ways. Members of the Senate, of course, develop ideas for legislation. Technical assistance in research and drafting legislative language is available at the Senate Legislative Technical Affairs Bureau. Special interest groups—business, religious, labor, urban and rural poor, consumers, trade association, and the like—are other fertile sources of legislation. Constituents, either as individuals or groups, also may propose legislation. Frequently, a member of the Senate will introduce such a bill by request, whether or not he supports its purposes.

It must be noted also that much of the needed legislation of the country today considered by Congress originates from the executive branch. Each year after the President of the Philippines outlines his legislative program in his State-of-the-Nation Address, executive departments and agencies transmit to the House and the Senate drafts of proposed legislations to carry out the President’s program.

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Introduction of Bills

No matter where a legislative proposal originates, it can be introduced only by a member of Congress. In the Senate, a member may introduce any of several types of bills and resolutions by filing it with the Office of the Secretary.

There is no limit to the number of bills a member may introduce. House and Senate bills may have joint sponsorship and carry several members' names.

Major legislation is often introduced in both houses in the form of companion (identical) bills, the purpose of which is to speed up the legislative process by encouraging both chambers to consider the measure simultaneously. Sponsors of companion bills may also hope to dramatize the importance or urgency of the issue and show broad support for the legislation.

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Types of Legislation

The type of measures that Congress may consider and act upon (in addition to treaties in the Senate) include bills and three kinds of resolutions. They are:

1. Bills

These are general measures, which if passed upon, may become laws. A bill is prefixed with S., followed by a number assigned the measure based on the order in which it is introduced. The vast majority of legislative proposals––recommendations dealing with the economy, increasing penalties for certain crimes, regulation on commerce and trade, etc., are drafted in the form of bills. They also include budgetary appropriation of the government and many others. When passed by both chambers in identical form and signed by the President or repassed by Congress over a presidential veto, they become laws.

2. Joint Resolutions

A joint resolution, like a bill, requires the approval of both houses and the signature of the President. It has the force and effect of a law if approved. There is no real difference between a bill and a joint resolution. The latter generally is used when dealing with a single item or issue, such as a continuing or emergency appropriations bill. Joint resolutions are also used for proposing amendments to the Constitution.

3. Concurrent Resolutions

A concurrent resolution is usually designated in the Senate as S. Ct. Res. It is used for matters affecting the operations of both houses and must be passed in the same form by both of them. However, they are not referred to the President for his signature, and they do not have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions are used to fix the time of adjournment of a Congress and to express the “sense of Congress” on an issue.

4. Simple Resolutions

It is usually designated with P. S. Res. A simple resolution deals with matters entirely within the prerogative of one house of Congress, such as adopting or receiving its own rules. A simple resolution is not considered by the other chamber and is not sent to the President for his signature. Like a concurrent resolution, it has no effect and force of a law. Simple resolutions are used occasionally to express the opinion of a single house on a current issue. Oftentimes, it is also used to call for a congressional action on an issue affecting national interest.

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Bill Referrals

Once a measure has been introduced and given a number, it is read and referred to an appropriate committee. It must be noted that during the reading of the bill, only the title and the author is read on the floor. The Senate President is responsible for referring bills introduced to appropriate committees. 

The jurisdictions of the Standing Committees are spelled out in Rule X, Section 13 of the Rules of the Senate. For example, if a bill involves matters relating to agriculture, food production and agri-business, it must be referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Food.

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In Committee

The standing committees of the Senate, operating as “little legislatures,” determine the fate of most proposals. There are committee hearings scheduled to discuss the bills referred. Committee members and staff frequently are experts in the subjects under their jurisdiction, and it is at the committee stage that a bill comes under the sharpest scrutiny. If a measure is to be substantially revised, the revision usually occurs at the committee level.

A committee may dispose of a bill in one of several ways: it may approve, or reject, the legislation with or without amendments; rewrite the bill entirely; reject it, which essentially kills the bill; report it favorably or without recommendation, which allows the chamber to consider the bill at all. It must be noted that under Section 29, Rule XI of the Rules of the Senate, if the reports submitted are unfavorable, they shall be transmitted to the archives of the Senate, unless five Senators shall, in the following session, move for their inclusion in the Calendar for Ordinary Business, in which case the President shall so order.

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Committee Reports

A committee report describes the purpose and scope of the bill, explains any committee amendments, indicates proposed changes in existing law and such other materials that are relevant. Moreover, reports are numbered in the order in which they are filed and printed.

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Calendaring for Floor Debates: Consideration of, and Debates on Bills

Under Section 45 of Rule XVI of the Rules of the Senate, the Senate shall have three calendars, to wit:

A “Calendar for Ordinary Business," in which shall be included the bills reported out by the committees in the order in which they were received by the Office of the Secretary; the bills whose consideration has been agreed upon by the Senate without setting the dates on which to effect it; and also the bills whose consideration has been postponed indefinitely;

A “Calendar for Special Orders,” in which the bills and resolutions shall be arranged successively and chronologically, according to the order in which they were assigned for consideration; and

A “Calendar for Third Reading,” in which shall be included all bills and joint resolutions approved on second reading.

Thus, a bill which has a committee report can be referred to the “Calendar for Ordinary Business.” It may again be moved to its “Special Order of Business” for priority action.

On the other hand, the consideration and debate of bills and resolutions are spelled out in Rule XXV, Section 71 of the Rules of the Senate. It provides as follows:

Sec. 71. The Senate shall adopt the following procedure in the consideration of bills and joint resolutions:

(a) Second reading of the bill.

(b) Sponsorship by the committee chairman, or by any member designated by the committee.

(c) If a debate ensues, turns for and against the bill shall be taken alternately: Provided, however, That any committee member who fails to enter his objection or to make of record his dissenting vote after it shall have been included in the Order of Business and read to the Senate in accordance with the second paragraph of Section 24 hereof, shall not be allowed to speak against the bill during the period of general debate although he may propose and speak or vote on amendments thereto.

(d) The sponsor of the bill or author of the motion shall have the right to close the debate.

(e) With the debate closed, the consideration of amendments, if any, shall be in order.

(f) After the period of amendments, the voting of the bill on Second Reading.

(g) Bills shall be submitted to final vote by yeas and nays after printed copies thereof in final form have been distributed to the Members at least three (3) days prior to their passage, except when the President of the Philippines certifies to the necessity of their immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency, in which case the voting on Third Reading may take place immediately after second reading.

After the bill is approved on Third Reading, it will be submitted to the House of Representatives for consideration. A bill passed by the Senate and transmitted to the House usually goes to a committee, unless a House bill on the same subject has already been reported out by the appropriate committee and placed on the calendar.

Under normal procedures, therefore, a bill passed by one chamber and transmitted to the other is referred to the appropriate committee, from which it must follow the same route to passage as a bill originating from that chamber.

Amendments may be offered at both the committee and floor action stages, and the bill as it emerges from the second chamber may differ significantly from the version passed by the first. A frequently used procedure when this occurs is for the chamber that acts last to bring up the other chamber’s bill and substitute its own version, then retaining only the latter’s bill number. That numbered bill, containing the Senate and House version, is then sent to a conference committee to resolve all differences.

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Conference Committee Action

Calling a Conference

Either chamber can request a conference once both have considered the same legislation. Generally, the chamber that approved the legislation first will disagree to the amendments made by the second body and will make a request that a conference be convened. Sometimes, however, the second body will ask for a conference immediately after it has passed the legislation, assuming that the other chamber will not accept its amendments.

Selection of Conferees

Under the Rules of the Senate (Rule XII, Section 34), the Senate President shall designate the members of the Senate panel in the conference committee with the approval of the Senate. The Senate delegation to a conference can range in size from three to a larger number, depending on the length and complexity of the legislation involved.

Authority of Conferees

The authority given to the Senate conferees theoretically is limited to matters in disagreement between the two chambers. They are not authorized to delete provisions or language agreed to by both the House and the Senate as to draft entirely new provisions.

In practice, however, the conferees have wide latitude, except where the matters in disagreement are very specific. Moreover, conferees attempt to reconcile their differences, but generally they try to grant concession only insofar as they remain confident that the chamber they represent will accept the compromise.

The Conference Report

When the conferees have reached agreement on a bill, the conference committee staff writes a conference report indicating changes made in the bill and explaining each side’s actions.

Once a conference committee completes its works, it can now be submitted to the floor for its approval. Debate on conference reports is highly privileged and can interrupt most other business.

Approval of the conference report by both houses, along with any amendments on disagreement, constitutes final approval of the bill.

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Final Legislative Action

After both houses have given final approval to a bill, a final copy of the bill, known as the “enrolled bill,” shall be printed, and certified as correct by the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House of Representatives. After which, it will be signed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

A bill may become a law, even without the President’s signature, if the President does not sign a bill within 30 days from receipt in his office. A bill may also become a law without the President’s signature if Congress overrides a presidential veto by two-thirds vote.

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The following is a summary of how a bill becomes a law:

Filing/Calendaring for First Reading

A bill is filed in the Office of the Secretary where it is given a corresponding number and calendared for First Reading.

First Reading

Its title, bill number, and author’s name are read on the floor, after which it is referred to the proper committee.

Committee Hearings/Report

Committee conducts hearings and consultation meetings. It then either approves the proposed bill without an amendment, approves it with changes, or recommends substitution or consolidation with similar bills filed.

Calendaring for Second Reading

The Committee Report with its approved bill version is submitted to the Committee on Rules for calendaring for Second Reading.

Second Reading

Bill author delivers sponsorship speech on the floor. Senators engage in debate, interpellation, turno en contra, and rebuttal to highlight the pros and cons of the bill. A period of amendments incorporates necessary changes in the bill proposed by the committee or introduced by the Senators themselves on the floor.

Voting on Second Reading

Senators vote on the second reading version of the bill. If approved, the bill is calendared for third reading.

Voting on Third Reading

Printed copies of the bill’s final version are distributed to the Senators. This time, only the title of the bill is read on the floor. Nominal voting is held. If passed, the approved Senate bill is referred to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

At the House of Representatives

The Lower Chamber follows the same procedures (First Reading, Second Reading and Third Reading).

Back to the Senate

If the House-approved version is compatible with that of the Senate’s, the final version’s enrolled form is printed. If there are certain differences, a Bicameral Conference Committee is called to reconcile conflicting provisions of both versions of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. Conference committee submits report on the reconciled version of the bill, duly approved by both chambers. The Senate prints the reconciled version in its enrolled form.

Submission to Malacañang

Final enrolled form is submitted to Malacañang. The President either signs it into law, or vetoes and sends it back to the Senate with veto message.

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Source: Pastrana and Raval, Essentials and Dynamics of the Senate, 2001;
Update of the Legislative Group 2001