Senate of the Philippines (File photo)

MANILA – Among the 1,610 bills and 388 resolutions filed in the Senate since the opening of the 19th Congress on July 25, the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was the most important legislation passed before it adjourned for the holidays, according to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The law, signed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Dec. 16, contained the PHP5.268-trillion national budget for 2023.

"Consisting of thousands of funding lines, this massive yet minute book of spending, finances the start of the reconstruction our people deserve after three years of being pummeled by the pandemic. The way the budget, and all the bills, are hammered in the Senate is proof that ours is not only an institution driven by initiative but also by industry," Zubiri said in a previous statement.

"I am very proud of the swift passage of our budget, because this will allow our agencies and offices to go full speed ahead in service of our people," he added.

Apart from the 2023 GAA, the Senate worked on Republic Act 11934 or the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Registration Act which was the first measure signed into law by Marcos.

It aims to fight scams being made through text and online messages.

The 180-day SIM card registration began on Dec. 27 and may be extended.

SIM cards already in use but not registered during the sign-up period will be deactivated while new cards must be registered upon purchase.

The Senate also approved RA 11935 which rescheduled this year's Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections to Oct. 30, 2023, the last Monday, and every three years thereafter.

With 21 affirmative votes, the Senate likewise approved Senate Bill 1290, also known as the Walkable and Bikeable Communities Act, seeking to provide safe and convenient pathways for pedestrians, bikers and non-motorized vehicles.

In Concurrent Resolution No. 3, the Senate adopted on Sept. 7 the Marcos administration's 2022-2028 Medium Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF) which calls for the alignment of all economic recovery programs and measures with legislative priorities.

Senator Sonny Angara, who sponsored the measure, said it was the first time since he led the Committee on Finance and throughout his nearly two decades as a legislator that a sitting administration laid out a fiscal framework to guide the decisions of lawmakers and civil servants.

"We believe there's no argument on the need for the government to be fiscally responsible as it works to jumpstart our economic recovery. Hence, under the MTFF, while the government pursues its socioeconomic agenda, it shall also exercise fiscal discipline," Angara said.

Meanwhile, senators approved a total of 38 other resolutions, which include the creation of an Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds and an unnumbered resolution expressing the sense of the chamber on the continuous acts of harassment and intimidation of Chinese armed forces in the West Philippine Sea.

The Senate approved the concurrent resolution establishing the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, as mandated by the Bangsamoro Organic Law to foster cooperation and coordination between the national government and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

On the part of the Commission on Appointments, Zubiri reported that they have already confirmed the ad interim appointments of all but two Cabinet officials.

Department of Trade and Industry's Alfredo Pascual and Department of Social Welfare and Development's Erwin Tulfo were bypassed. The former because of personnel complaints at the Philippine Economic Zone Authority and the latter for his libel convictions and questionable citizenship.

Pascual has since been reappointed by Marcos while Undersecretary Edu Punay was designated current officer-in-charge of the Social Welfare department.

Zubiri vowed that the Senate will continue to champion innovations while protecting and helping indigent Filipinos in 2023.

"These kinds of tandem initiatives, which blend the macro and the micro, the long-gestating with the quick-acting, is the template that this Senate, this hardworking, forward-looking Senate, should follow when we return here this January," Zubiri said. "Our labors in the coming months will sustain our path to recovery while battling the headwinds which threaten to slow down our march to a place better than where we were before the pandemic."

When plenary sessions resume on Jan. 23, 2023, the Senate will tackle the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interest on Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Amendment on Fixed Term of Armed Forces of the Philippines, Medical Reserve Corps Act, Center for Disease Prevention and Control Act, and Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines Act.

The Maharlika Fund bill will also be on the agenda soon, not as a priority measure but for "deep discussion and careful consideration".

The House of Representatives approved the investment fund bill before the Chrismas break to help Marcos “keep the country on the high-growth path” while assuring “that the management of the fund will follow best practices and the principles of transparency and accountability,” according to Speaker Martin Romualdez.

"The Senate will build on our good start in 2022. Having identified our priority legislations, and having established the pace of committee and plenary proceedings, we are ready to improve our coordination and we are ready to work harder to address the needs of our people. It is onward and upward from here," Zubiri said. (PNA)