Press Release
June 5, 2020

Zubiri Reports High Senate Productivity Despite Pandemic

As the Senate goes into sine die adjournment, Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri reports that, under the leadership of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, the First Regular Session of the Eighteenth Congress has been remarkably productive, even amidst the complications brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic at the tail-end of the legislative calendar.

"COVID has really changed the way that we work, but I think we've managed it well," Zubiri said. Himself a COVID-19 survivor, Zubiri spearheaded the Senate Resolution allowing for Senators to join plenary sessions remotely through video conferencing, in order for them to continue working while still following quarantine guidelines.

Zubiri, who maintained perfect attendance throughout the First Regular Session, admitted to some difficulties as the Senate shifted to a new medium. "It's not been without problems. Sometimes connection can get bad and disrupt the flow of the session. And we've had to figure out and get used to entirely new ways to hold caucuses, to file bills, to arrange committee hearings. But on the whole, I'd like to point to our performance reports as proof that the Senate's shift to a new normal has been pretty successful."

Throughout the First Regular Session, which began 22 July 2019, the Senate has managed to see to the passage of eight (8) laws, with two (2) more bills pending the approval of the President. Of the bills passed into law, notable are Republic Act 11466 or the Salary Standardization Law of 2019, which modifies the salary schedule of civilian government personnel, and Republic Act 11467 or the reformed Sin Tax Law, which raises alcohol and tobacco taxes, revenues for which will fund the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act of 2019.

As the pandemic took hold over the whole nation, the Senate saw to the swift passage of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, in response to the national COVID-19 emergency.

Right before the sine die adjournment, they also clocked in marathon sessions to approve on second reading the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (or Bayanihan II), which extends the validity of the preceding Bayanihan Act and grants the executive branch necessary powers to manage a second wave of widespread COVID-19 infections, should it come. Further, Bayanihan II contains provisions on economic stimulus packages that would aid economic activities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Senate has also approved another thirty-one (31) bills on third and final reading, and eight (8) on second reading. Among those that have been approved on third reading are Senate Bill 1318, which amends the Organic Agriculture Act, and Senate Bill 1541, which allows for the President to set the school opening beyond August 31 in times of national emergency.

Another twenty-seven (27) bill are pending approval on second reading. Additionally, the Senate has adopted a total of fifty-nine (59) resolutions--five (5) of those being concurrent with the House of Representatives, and two (2) concurring in the ratification of international treaties.

Zubiri has stated that upon resumption of session, the Senate will prioritize the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), which is the revised Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA). This bill offers a 5 percent income tax cut to businesses, which will be massively useful as they try to find their footing after months of unanticipated losses.

"There wasn't enough time to deliberate and pass CREATE before sine die, but this is a very urgent measure that our people will need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods after COVID-19. Especially our MSME sector--owners and employees alike. So we are definitely going to prioritize CREATE when session resumes in July."

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