Published 1 April 2019, The Daily Tribune

The law permeates our everyday lives and is ingrained in almost all human activity. Because laws are in place, we are confident that contracts will be honored, crimes will be punished, and rights will be upheld. It is therefore practically impossible for any modern society to function without law to put things in order.

Indeed, “the glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not by the Constitution, nor the courts, nor by the officers of the law, nor by the lawyers, but by the men and women who constitute our society – who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.” (Robert Kennedy)

As outputs of our elected representatives, we accept the law because they are a product of our collective consciousness and aspirations. They are born of a long and arduous process involving an entire branch of government dedicated primarily to a single, all too important task – that of legislation.

The 1987 Constitution provides that legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate is composed of twenty-four Senators who are elected at large by qualified voters all over the country. The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than 250 (unless otherwise fixed by law), 20 percent of whom must be Party-list representatives.

The process of legislation

The procedures for introducing legislation and seeing it through committees are substantially similar in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. A bill may originate from any of these two chambers.

The first step in legislation is the submission of a bill, or a legislative proposal. This is why bills are regarded as laws in the making. Once a bill is drafted and sponsored, it is submitted to the Secretary General. A bill filed in the House of Representative is labelled “H.B.”, while a bill filed in Senate is labelled “S.B.”, and assigned a number.

The bill is then referred for first reading. At that stage, the title of the bill and name of the sponsor/author is read and the bill is referred to the appropriate committee.

Essentially, it is the committee which determines the fate of the bill. The committee studies it and makes its recommendations. It may opt to conduct public hearings to solicit the views of concerned agencies, experts, supporters, and opponents of the proposal.

If the committee votes for the bill, the bill is sent for a second reading during full session of the chamber. The second reading is a period of sponsorship and debates, amendments, and voting. If the bill is sponsored or approved by at least a majority of the members present, the bill gets sent for a third reading.

During third reading, voting is conducted. No amendment on the bill is allowed at this stage. The bill is approved by an affirmative vote of a majority of the members present. The approved bill is then transmitted to the other chamber for its concurrence, i.e., the House of Representatives, if the bill came from Senate,  and vice versa.

When a bill is approved and transmitted to the other chamber, it undergoes the same process of referral to the proper committee and the same first, second and third readings.  Amendments may be offered or the bill may be substituted by the other chamber’s own version.

The bill is then is then sent to a conference committee to resolve all differences.  Once the conference is called, the authority given to the delegates from both chambers is generally limited to matters in disagreement between the two chambers. They are not authorized to delete provisions or draft entirely new provisions.

Afterwards, a report is drawn up to indicate changes made in the bill and to explain each side’s actions. The approval of the conference report by both chambers constitutes final approval of the bill.

Final Stages

A final copy of the bill, known as the “enrolled bill,” is then certified as correct by the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House of Representatives. The enrolled bill is signed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, and transmitted to the Office of the President, for the latter’s signature.

While a bill generally needs the signature of the President for it to become a law, a bill may lapse into law if the President does not veto the bill within thirty (30) days from receipt. A bill may also become a law without the President’s signature if Congress overrides a presidential veto by two-thirds vote.

Given the complicated process of legislation, it does not come as a surprise that it takes years before any law is passed. When a bill finally becomes a law, it would be enforced to its fullest extent.  Hence, we can only hope that these laws are seasoned with wisdom, tempered with justice, and truly responsive to the nation’s needs.

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