Press Release
October 15, 2020

By Sen. Francis "Tol" N. Tolentino
Privilege Speech, 14 October 2020

Mr. President, today, I rise on a matter of personal privilege. Yesterday, I wholeheartedly accepted the ruling of the honorable Senate President, relative to my query as to the proper destination of the local bills filed by our colleague, Sen. Lito Lapid, involving the municipality of Porac, Pampanga. I wholeheartedly accept the ruling of the Chair. The ruling involved, among others, a constitutional provision, Art. VI, Sec. 24 of the Constitution, which I would like to quote:

"All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments."

This provision is pregnant with some constitutional ramifications relative to a matter which was referred a while ago to this chamber. I'm referring to House Resolution 1288, stating that the House of Representatives has now reconvened pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 1027, calling the Congress of the Philippines to a special session.

Mr. President, gusto ko lamang pong liwanagin at humingi na rin ng tagubilin sa inyo kung papaano po pag-uugnay-ugnayin itong Presidential Proclamation 1027, relative to the legislative calendar of the Senate and of the House of the Representatives.

Reading Presidential Proclamation 1027, I see no incoherence. I see no disconnect in so far as the legislative calendars of both Houses are concerned. To quote the short provision of the Presidential Proclamation issued by President Duterte last October 9:

"Pursuant to the powers vested in me under Section 15, Article VI of the Constitution, I, RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE, President of the Philippines, do hereby call the Congress of the Philippines to a special session on 13 October 2020 to 16 October 2020 in order to resume the congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget and to avoid any further delays on the prompt passage thereof in accordance with the Constitution and applicable laws, rules, and regulations."

It is no secret that prior to the issuance of this Presidential Proclamation, there was a suspension of proceedings made by the Lower House. If I'm not mistaken, that was effective October 6, 2020. Ang tanong po dito, Mr. President, is the Presidential Proclamation directed to both Houses? Or is it directed just to the House of Representatives considering that the Senate never suspended its session or never adjourned? My reading is that the operative word is "resume." The President of the Philippines stated in his Proclamation, "in order to resume the congressional deliberations." The common meaning of the word "resume" is to begin again, to continue, to go on, to proceed, to take up again. Presidential Proclamation 1027 was thus issued by the President with the suspension made by the Lower House in mind. So it is a direction given by the President of the Philippines, pursuant to his powers under Article VI, Section 15 of the Constitution, that "[t]he President may call a special session at any time", directed to the Lower House to resume budget deliberations. E ano po 'yong direktiba sa Upper House? The clear intent here is that it is the constitutional duty now of the Senate, after the end of the period mandated by the Presidential Proclamation, which is on October 16, 2020, for the Senate to constitutionally receive the product emanating from the Lower House which is the budget. This is pursuant to Art. VI, Sec. 24 of the Constitution, which is the origination clause.

So our duty is to constitutionally receive the budget from the House. That process of receiving need not be the 24-member-chamber receiving the budget as approved by the House. It can be a special committee or the Committee on Finance or even the Secretariat as empowered by the Senate President.

My point, Mr. President, is that there is no discrepancy or incoherence with the legislative calendar of the Senate, what the House is doing right now pursuant to the message received by this chamber in House Resolution 1288, and the intent of the Executive.

It has been said several times and this is an accepted norm that words should be interpreted in accordance with their normal and well-accepted meaning. And they have to be construed in the light of the intent of the one who issued the directive. To quote a provision coming from the Administrative Code of the Philippines empowering the President to issue such a proclamation and the definition of "proclamations:"

"Acts of the President fixing a date or declaring a status or condition of public moment or interest, upon the existence of which the operation of a specific law or regulation is made to depend, shall be promulgated in proclamations which shall have the force of an executive order."

I'm saying this because it might be construed as disobedience to the Chief Executive if we will not reconvene in the days ahead. It is not correct. It has been held consistently, even by the Supreme Court of the Philippines in Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance (G.R. No. 115455 August 25, 1994), that the initiative for filing such bills, such as the General Appropriations Act, must emanate from the House and the Senate then has the power to concur or provide some amendments thereto.

Even if we proceed with our legislative calendar, we will not be violating Presidential Proclamation 1027. We are in effect given notice by this Presidential Proclamation that we have to wait for the submission and transmittal by the Lower House of the budget. We are given constructive notice that within the next few days, probably on October 16, or before October 16, the Lower House will be transmitting the General Appropriations Act to the Senate.

I thus foresee no inconsistency with Presidential Proclamation 1027, the resumption of the congressional hearings in the Lower House, and the Senate legislative calendar, because everything that we do is in line with the Constitution, the Administrative Code of the Philippines, and existing jurisprudence.

Mr. President, I cannot but cite a precedent which probably will be closer to home. I refer to an event that happened in the United States. In 1856, as cited in the Hinds' Precedents, it took the US Congress two months to resolve a speakership issue. During a prolonged contest over the election of the Speaker and the organization of the US House of Representatives, the latter was unable to transact any legislative business. The Senate debated and adopted a resolution directing that, in the name of expediency, the Committee on Finance should prepare and report appropriations bills rather than wait for the House action. However, no appropriations bill actually was reported because it took two months before Speaker Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts was elected as the Speaker of the Lower House.

It just goes to show, Mr. President, na hindi lang po ito sa atin nangyayari. Nangyayari rin po ito sa ibang bansa at 'yon siguro po ang nasa isip ng ating pangulo that given the situation in the Lower House, the House has to proceed with its legislative duties.

Again, I humbly submit my interpretation of the word "resume" in Presidential Proclamation 1027. It is a mandate given to the Lower House to continue with the congressional deliberations of the 2021 national budget and for the Senate to wait for its transmittal. Our duty in the Senate is to constitutionally receive the appropriations bill emanating from the Lower House.

Maraming salamat po, Mr. President.

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