Press Release
June 7, 2010

Closing Remarks by Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri
Fourteenth Congress

The 14th Congress is coming to a close. Topmost in my mind is to express my gratitude to our honourable colleagues, officers of the Senate, Senate Bureaus, the Secretariat, all the senators' staff and everybody who makes the Senate habitable, peaceful and secure.

Being elected to this institution granted us an opportunity to serve our fellow Filipinos: I thank them sincerely. And, an extra dose of thanks to my colleagues for trusting that I will perform the exacting duties of a Majority Leader.

In November 2008, a divided Senate transitioned from the leadership of Sipag at Tiyaga Senator Manny Villar & Yellow Army Activist Senator Kiko Pangilinan. They handed the reins over to our enduring Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and this humble representation.

Theirs was a formidable alliance - - I refer to the Wednesday Group composed of Senators Villar, Pangilinan, Vice-President Noli, come-backing Senator Recto and wild white-hair Joker Arroyo. Our wise man from the north, Senator Enrile had to settle for me, a new kid on the block.

Selected for being a jolly busy bee, I resolved to grow my own fangs and be called, the new dude on the block.

I welcomed the change. I found it my chance to recover my pride earlier demolished by a comment from my Tita , Senator Jamby Madrigal - - who will be absent temporarily from the Senate. She caused Page One caricatures of me. And, triggered a debate on which was the right word: arse, bottom, or behind.

Now, seriously, those were some of the most vexing moments in our history: not only due to the leadership change but because destruction and desolation had earlier overcome Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

More than 700 died in June 2008 when the Princess of the Stars capsized; many lives were lost and millions worth of properties and infrastructure were destroyed by Typhoon Frank in the Visayas; strong winds and floods ravaged Luzon threatening food supply especially in the nation's capital. We also grabbed international headlines when our one and only operational C-130 crashed into the Davao Gulf. Kidnappings, breakdown of peace talks, media killings and activist disappearances haunted us. Issues of corruption also weighed us down as a nation.

Eight months ago, the wrath of super-typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng brought us suffering, some of which are still with us. If not from a direct hit, from the cumulative effects of damaged farms, roads, bridges, schools and other infrastructure. I recall that my first Privileged Speech in 2007 was on Global Warming & Climate Change. I wasn't happy at all, that every year I was proven right.

Ondoy and Pepeng also set off marathon hearings here in the Senate. Senator Legarda pitched tents to hold Committee hearings up the San Roque Dam and in Tumana down by the Marikina River. Mr. President, your industrious Senate personnel were with Senator Legarda holding a hearing on a bamboo raft in a submerged town in Laguna De Bay.

Such disasters and our fast responses proved to the country that despite many differences and disagreements, their Senators' hearts are in the right place, putting the interests and welfare of the citizenry at the top of their priorities. . The Senate acted fast with the enactment of the Environmental Awareness Act or Republic Act 9512. It was also a good start for our partnership in that, Senate President Enrile saw the bill that he patiently steered become the National Grid Corporation Act, or R. A. 9511. It is crucial in delivering power to consumers, big or small. Also, the amendments to the EPIRA soon came.

We marched on. Mr. President, we have breached the 10,000 mark for our Republic Acts. The most recent law - - Republic Act 10,122 was signed by President Arroyo last week. From November 2008 to May this year, we had 611 laws enacted. Adding the accomplishments since the First Regular Session to November 2008, your Senate approved 630 laws. More are navigating the Legislative pipeline for the past few days and we expect more bills will be signed into law before the current administration bows out of office.

Mr. President, if passing the most number of laws would be the measure of our accomplishment, this Senate of the Fourteenth Congress is a stand-out. We break the record of the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th Congresses. However, one would be quick to retort that we passed those many laws because of local bills. I strongly disagree. We also passed laws of national significance more than the past Congresses mentioned. We passed quality legislations even as we improved on those passed by the previous Congresses. We passed laws for every sector of our society and for every aspect of our national life. Let me mention a few.

For the Environment: the Climate Change Act, Log Ban in Southern Leyte, Protected Landscapes of Mount Banahaw and San Cristobal Range, and the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and Anti-Marine Pollution Act.

In Agriculture: the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund extension, and the Organic Agriculture Act.

On the Economy: the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises, Barangay Livelihood, the Cooperative Code, Real Estate Service Act, and Economic Zones in Bataan, Mindanao and Aurora.

On Housing: the Low-cost Housing Loan Restructuring and Condonation Program, Rent Control Act, the Pag-IBIG Fund Charter and the Magna Carta for Homeowners.

On Transportation & Infrastructure: the creation of the Civil Aviation Authority, and Liability of Ship Agents.

On Education: the National Book Development Act and the charters of the University of the Philippines and of the Philippine Normal University; establishment of National Science High Schools, National High Schools, Elementary Schools, State Universities and Colleges and Extension Campus; the Charter of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines; and the creation of the Literacy Coordinating Council.

On Culture and Sports: recognition of the T'nalak Festival, Founding Anniversaries of Romblon, the Iglesia ni Cristo, observance of Eidul Adha, declaring Arnis as the National Martial Art and Sport, and strengthening the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

On Health: the Cheaper Medicines Act, Newborn Hearing Screening, strengthening the Bureau of Food and Drugs, laws on Respiratory Therapy, Breastfeeding, Persons with Disabilities and regulating the practice of Psychology.

On Social Justice: on pensions and benefits of Filipino World War II veterans, requirements for Domestic Adoption, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, Magna Carta of Women, Anti-torture, Anti-Child Pornography, Food Donation, International Humanitarian Law, condonation of Delinquent Social Security contributions, Expanded Senior Citizens Benefits and Privileges, creation of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, Free Legal Assistance, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act and Free Patent on Residential Lands.

On Customs and Taxes: the Customs Brokers Act, expansion of the Court of Tax Appeals, grant of exemption from Individual Income Tax, from amusement Tax, from Documentary Stamp Tax, Reduction of Tax on Life Insurance Premiums, grant of exemption from Income Tax to Local Water Districts and agreement on the exchange of Information on Tax Matters.

On Banking and Finance: the creation of the Personal Equity and Retirement Account, increasing the amount of Deposit Insurance to P500,000 and the Pre-Need Code of the Philippines.

On Sovereignty and National Territory: defining the Archipelagic Baselines of the Philippines, a landmark piece of legislation.

On Autonomy & Governance: creation of the Bacolor Rehabilitation Council, amendments to the General Santos City charter, increasing survivorship benefits of the Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections.

On the Judiciary: expansion of the Court of Appeals, creation of additional Regional Trial Court Branches in Bataan, Mandaluyong City and South Cotabato, and the grant of additional retirement, survivorship and other benefits to members of the Judiciary.

On Safety, Peace & Order: the Fire Code, codifying laws on illegal/unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives, professionalizing the Bureau of Fire Protection and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, extension of the Reglementary period for appointment to the PNP, creation of the Military Service Board, establishment of the Philippine Coast Guard as an Armed and Uniformed Service attached to the DOTC, the Anti-Photo and -Video Voyeurism and the Motorcycle Helmet Act.

On Energy: the Renewable Energy, amendments to the EPIRA and the National Grid Corporation.

Likewise, we were bullish in our work to have the most important laws passed, the Budget, for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010. In those years, we never had a full-year re-enacted budget even as we diligently and patiently made a fine-toothed comb examination of the President's budget.

Now, on laws of local application. Let it not be said that those are important only to our district legislators, our Congressmen, and not our concern. Are their local constituents not our constituents, too? Mr. President, those laws of local application mattered also to our people.

When we convert a local college into a state university, we often hear what's in a name? However, Mr. President, to the school officials I have spoken with, they equate this to better quality education to their students. Why? Because when we convert a state university, this would mean additional foreign grants for our state universities for their new equipment, improvement of school facilities, faculty training and academic researches. This is also meaningful to the students as they will gain more confidence being graduates of a state university and therefore give them more opportunities to work in good multi-national private companies. And during graduation, you could see the graduates and parents of these new state universities beaming with pride.

When we create additional courts especially in far-flung areas, we help in the speedy administration and dispensation of justice for our people. The better proximity of courts to them could translate that they could now easily attend court hearings, present more witnesses and assure our less-privileged citizens that the courts are within their reach. It really matters to our people.

Thus, I fervently pray that this practice of attending to local bills strongly supported by this Senate would continue in the next Congress.

One of the high points of the 14th Congress was its dogged determination to push through the nationwide Automated Elections, under the leadership of Senators Gordon and Escudero. This Senate walked our talk by leading the passage of a Supplemental budget that would give tooth and realization to RA 9369, our Automated Election Law, without the accompanying budget, the law would have joined the dustbin of our unimplementable laws. Having toiled so many months scrutinizing and preparing for all imaginable scenarios and threats that can befall the May 2010 elections, they still would not rest. I'm sure their renewed efforts will not be in vain.

Frequently, your Committee on Rules was at the maelstrom of controversy. It had to deal with the rules to govern the handling of ethics cases concerning our colleagues. Also, the appeal to allow Senator Trillanes to participate in Senate proceedings. They were some of the most trying episodes I experienced as a Majority Leader.

The developments and repercussions from those witching months still ripple through these halls. Someday, we may need a thorough assessment of the workings of our beloved institution. And in introspection. Or, we can follow Senator Roxas with his garlands of garlic.

Indeed, many ties were broken and wounds inflicted. In time, as we pray, those wounds shall heal.

But let the people always remember, that the Senate never ran away from its duties. We forged on with the inquiries. We pulled out all the stops, whoever was at issue. And, thanks to the Senate President, he may have been stern at times, but, it is known - he never pulled rank.

Our tandem may have been inaugurated on the heels of disastrous typhoons and skirmishes in Mindanao - and in the Senate, but, we tried our very best to help rebuild the country through relevant measures. We did not hesitate to put the pressure on agencies of government which had a lot to answer for.

We continued the inquiries on maritime disasters, human rights violations like the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the Legacy pre-need & Graceland housing scams. The Senate arrested Jocjoc Bolante; investigated the botched NBN-ZTE deal.

In a consumerist move, the Senate President brought the price of telecommunications service down, extended the life of pre-paid load and simplified how our people can subscribe to Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga ring tones or just the digital beep. Jejemons and Jejebusters were equally delighted.

On the other hand, Senator Gordon channelled telecom windfall profits to education and health. Likewise, cheaper medicines and bigger discounts for senior citizens are only some of the positive contributions of the Senate directly felt by our people.

In all those, let it be said, that like Manny Pacquiao, the Senate also threw knock-out punches.

For 20 months, the duties of a Majority Leader kept me so busy. It's true, ask my wife.

The experience also proved me wrong. I had the wrong impressions that a Majority Leader was just a traffic police shuffling papers. Or, the convenient alibi - - as senators often tell constituents - - Hintay lang. Hindi pa ini-schedule ng Majority Leader. Or, panakip butas lang when providing quorum. Mr. President, I can proudly say that, as your Majority Leader, wala po akong inipit or inupuan na panukala. The Minority Leader even had kind words to this representation, when, during the deliberation of the Agrarian Reform Law Extension, that even when I had serious reservations with the bill, I did not stand in the way of its continued deliberations in the plenary and timely passage in the chamber. For that, I truly appreciate the comments of the distinguished Minority Leader.

I accommodated every Committee Chairman who would want to work and sponsor a measure, and even in their absence, I took the cudgels in sponsoring their committee reports, just so the legislative mill would not grind to a halt and deliver to our people the legislation they are asking for.

But, it was a welcome challenge. At least on the Senate Floor, I was directing traffic. So different from my home where I surrender to the caprices of my two bundles of joy and my charming wife.

Speaking of home, Mr. President, I am happy to report that we have done much to empower our staff. We made sure that their efforts and sacrifices are well compensated. Now, they sleep soundly knowing they have security of tenure and their good performance counts in their favour. We promoted and upgraded them accordingly. We also helped them get better terms for their housing needs. Mr. President, all of them thank the Senate of the Fourteenth Congress for setting up a provident fund that will care for themselves and their families in the future.

We so love our employees, that, we did not house them in the Film Center which terrified them. How we wish that the Senate will have its own home. I believe that is for the next Senate to decide.

Collectively, we count the days when new dudes on the block come and kiss our Constitutional Law guru Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Senator Legarda and Senator Pia Cayetano. As we meet again to reorganize the Senate, I shall familiarize myself with my new seat at the last row, where Zubiri belongs. I am giving up this front row seat and trooping to the table beside Senator Villar - a man who fought a decent fight, showed us how to lose with integrity and implored that we support the Presidency of Senator Aquino.

We will miss Senators Rodolfo Biazon - who will be in the other House, the House of Representatives, Jamby Madrigal, Mar Roxas and Richard Gordon - - who will be in the spotlight with many disasters waiting to happen, being the re-elected Chairman of the Red Cross. And, I am happy that fellow swashbucklers Senators Jinggoy, Revilla, Lapid and Honasan will still be around.

I shall miss Senator Pimentel, our old friend, who always offered me his fatherly advice, as well as stood forcefully for the Minority. In so doing, guaranteeing our independence and acting as fiscalizer of the chamber.

For sure, Senator Benigno Aquino - son of great Filipinos, will always be in our minds as he is apparently headed to the Palace of the Other Co-Equal Branch. He will be the premier resident of Malacañang by the Pasig River, just a bridge away from the Senate, his soon-to-be-former home.

Lastly, allow me to thank the Secretariat officials and employees, as well as my Senate staff, who have helped me in the smooth flow of our work in the Plenary and for record-breaking accomplishment. To me, they are the real busy bees. Oftentimes, behind the blinding flashes of camera lights, we send them to rush the printing of additional reference of business, the latest version of bills for plenary debates, third reading copies, bicameral reports and even the setting-up of our audio-visual aides, just so we can better appreciate and be delighted with the speeches of Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ping Lacson, Jinggoy Estrada and Nene Pimentel.

Mr. President, having reminisced as much and reported our accomplishments, I confidently assure our countrymen that the Senate will continue to be the bulwark of democracy, an independent Chamber of the Legislature that will always unite for the good of the Filipino people.

At this juncture, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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