THE LEGISLATIVE YEARBOOK: Which laws have graduated, and which are delayed?

By Yski Rualo and Toby Roca

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For the first half of 2012, the 15th Congress had its hands full with the historic impeachment trial of then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was eventually replaced by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Supreme Court’s first female chief magistrate (see Newsmakers section).

But besides making history with the removal of the Chief Justice, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have significantly advanced their legislative agendas. Bills passed by members of both chambers of Congress signed into law by Pres. Noynoy Aquino in 2012 include three of the most controversial pieces of legislation in recent memory – Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, Cybercrime Law, and Sin Tax Bill.

However, crucial bills have yet to see the light of day, and as the 15th Congress draws to a close, their eventual fate will have to be decided upon by the victors in the coming May national midterm polls.

THE GRADUATES

Reproductive Health Law

OFFICIAL NAME

Republic Act (RA) No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012

FIRST PROPOSED

13 years ago, as House Bill (HB) No. 8110 – “The Integrated Population and Development Act of 1999”

SIGNED INTO LAW

December 21, 2012; took effect on January 17, 2013.

WHAT IT SAYS

RA 10354 holds that the national government is the sole facilitator of backing the dissemination of free contraceptives and family planning methods, ensuring reproductive health services in state hospitals, and embedding sex education in the curriculum of public schools. Private hospitals and schools also have the prerogative whether to provide reproductive health services and teach sex education, respectively, or not. Minors need parental consent to utilize family planning methods, except in special cases.

WHY IT MATTERS

In the largely conservative Philippines, the use of contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy and maternal death, while also controlling population growth, was highly criticized by the Catholic Church and lay organizations. The concept of science versus religion was highlighted through the debates. Moreover, the law’s claims of population management as economic policy were refuted by arguments that inequitable wealth distribution lay at the root of poverty incidence in the country. Women’s groups, however, have championed the law – which stresses maternal and child health – as a significant victory for women’s rights.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the law’s main proponents, has been reported in the Inquirer as saying that investing in family planning will be a cheaper way to mitigate the effects of climate change, citing foreign studies. Meanwhile, a Manila court has convicted performance artist and vocal RH advocate Carlos Celdran of violating religious sensibilities, citing an obscure Commonwealth-era passage in the Revised Penal Code. Celdran’s crime: dressed as Jose Rizal and carrying a placard with the word “DAMASO” written on it, he disrupted an anti-RH prayer service in the Manila Cathedral at the height of the RH debates that rocked the nation last year.

Cybercrime Law

OFFICIAL NAME

RA No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

FIRST PROPOSED

In 2009, as HB No. 6794 – “An Act Defining Cybercrime, Providing for Prevention, Suppression, and Imposition of Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes”

SIGNED INTO LAW

September 12, 2012; took effect on October 3, but was issued a 150-day temporary restraining order (TRO) by the Supreme Court (SC) on October 9 to stop its implementation.

WHAT IT SAYS

RA 10175 will penalize and prevent computer crime such as hacking, computer fraud, data interference, cybersex, and child pornography. The law recognizes the potential of cyberspace to evolve into an even greater outlet of syndicated computer crime, and requires the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine National Police (PNP) to organize a special investigators-backed cybercrime unit to handle cases related to cybercrime offenses.

WHY IT MATTERS

The law met with fierce protests from many different sectors, particularly from students and the media. Opposition to the law revolved around 6 contentious provisions – Sec. 4, criminalizing online libel; Sec. 5, on “aiding and abetting” cybercrimes; Sec. 6 and 7, which adapts virtually all crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code, and raises the degree of punishment for those crimes; Sec. 12, which allows government to monitor internet traffic data; and Sec 19, or the take-down clause. The law has been nicknamed “e-Martial Law,” those opposed to it having drawn parallels between the law’s provisions and the blatant political repression during the Marcos regime.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

The SC has decided to extend indefinitely the TRO it issued against the Cybercrime Law in a decision issued February 5, 2013. At least 15 petitions proposing either amending or junking the law have been received by the high court.

 

Sin Tax Reform

OFFICIAL NAME

RA No. 10351 or the new Sin Tax Reform Law of 2012

AMMENDATORY TO

RA No. 8424 otherwise known as the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, enacted 15 years ago

SIGNED INTO LAW

December 20, 2012; took effect on January 1, 2013.

WHAT IT SAYS

The law removes the price classification freeze in that pegged tobacco products to 1996 prices, which were used to determine the tax rates imposed on them. It also mandates a shift to a unitary tax regime by 2017 for tobacco and fermented liquor.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Sin Tax Reform Law seeks to increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco products in order to generate Php33.96 billion in additional revenue for the government for fiscal year 2013, lower than the Php60 billion target set by the Department of Finance (DOF). It also aims to rise more than Php184 billion in the next four years. The bill was also designed to make tobacco and alcohol prohibitively expensive for most Filipinos. It also takes into account the fact that diseases either caused or exacerbated by smoking and drinking, such as cancer and heart disease, are among the top causes of Filipino deaths. The additional tax collection from its first year will be allocated for the provision of universal health care and for programs to improve tobacco farmers’ livelihoods.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Data from the National Statistics Office indicate that inflation rose to 3% in January 2013, from 2.9% December last year. The rise was attributed mainly to the implementation of RA 10351, with the alcoholic and tobacco price index registering double-digit growth at 17.3% in January, 12 points higher than the 5.1% recorded in December 2012 when the law was passed.

 

Data Privacy Act

OFFICIAL NAME

RA No. 10173 or An Act Protecting Individual Personal Information in Information and Communications Systems in the Government and the Private Sector, Creating for this Purpose a National Privacy Commission, and for Other Purposes

BASED LARGELY ON

Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and Council, adopted in October 24, 1995

SIGNED INTO LAW

August 15, 2012

WHAT IT SAYS

The law imposes a set of obligations upon any person or entity (referred to as the “personal information controller”) that controls the collection, holding, recording, storing, updating, disposal, processing or use of the personal information of an individual (referred to as the “data subject”). These obligations include, among others, informing data subjects that their personal information is being processed, providing them with reasonable access to personal information under the control of the personal information controller, immediately correcting personal information found to be inaccurate or erroneous, and indemnifying data subjects for any damages.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Data Privacy Act seeks to strike a balance between the protection of the fundamental human right to privacy of communication and the free flow of information to promote innovation and growth. The law brings the Philippines closer to international standards of privacy protection. However, the law is also seen by some legal experts as the antithesis of the freedom of information bill.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

There have been no petitions filed against the law as of press time.

Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act

OFFICIAL NAME

RA No. 10353, or An Act Defining and Penalizing Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (several media agencies have erroneously reported the law’s official name as RA No. 10350, which is actually the law instituting the regulation of interior design practice in the Philippines.

APPROVED BY CONGRESS

September 20, 2012, nearly 40 years after Pres. Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law.

SIGNED INTO LAW

December 21, 2012

WHAT IT SAYS

The Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act defines “enforced disappearance” as the deprivation of a person’s liberty by the state or agents of the state, and the concealment of information on the whereabouts of the missing. The law cannot be suspended even during periods of political instability, or when there is a threat of war, state of war, or any public emergency. Other salient provisions include the de-legalization of orders of battle (lists of perceived state enemies, often including civilian activists, to be targeted as combatants); holding state actors, including high-ranking police and military officials, accountable in cases of enforced disappearances; and restitution and compensation for victims and their relatives.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Philippines is the first country in Asia to enact a law for “desaparecidos.” The law envisions the formation of a new breed of military, police and civilian officials and employees who respect and defend the human rights and civil liberties of all Filipinos.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Desaparecidos and UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan have yet to be surfaced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, 6 years after they were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Jonas Burgos, a desaparecido since 2010, is likewise still missing. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan still hasn’t surfaced, and a public manhunt for the disgraced official has turned up only a few leads. In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in arbitrary arrests by the police and military against activists around the country, a development that has been met with condemnation from human rights groups.

 

DELAYED 

Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill

WHAT IT SAYS

The bill would allow public access to government dealings and documents in line with a policy of full disclosure. It is intended to foster good governance and promote transparency and accountability in government.

WHY IT MATTERS

The current version of the FOI bill has only been the latest in a line of similar proposals – all of them failed – spanning more than two decades. A Freedom of Information Act might have bolstered the Aquino government’s thrust on transparency and accountability.

WHY IT’S DELAYED

Despite the Senate passing its version of the FOI bill, the Lower House had essentially killed the bill when it adjourned on February 6, 2013, with the bill stuck in the sponsorship stage barely days before the 15th Congress went into recess for the midterm polls in May. Proponents of the bill in the Lower House floor blamed the consistent lack of quorum, as well as the ambivalent attitude of Malacanang towards the bill, for the bill’s death. Provisions on executive privilege and national security that were added by the executive branch have also made several sponsors of the bill to drop their support for it. The FOI bill is expected to be resurrected when the 16th Congress begins after the elections.

AMLA Amendments

WHAT IT SAYS

The existing Anti-Money Laundering Act will be amended to cover cases involving bribery and corruption, malversation of public funds and terrorism, among other offenses. Tax evasion cases, however, will not be covered. The bill calls for the inclusion of real estate agents, dealers in precious metals/stones, foreign exchange corporations, money changers and pre-need companies, among others, in the list of entities that have to submit periodic reports of large cash inflows to the AMLC. However, the approved version excludes casino operators from reporting suspected money launderers.

WHY IT MATTERS

Both chambers of Congress rushed to approve a consolidated version of the AMLA amendatory bill to prevent the Philippines from being blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, which will be holding a major international conference on February 18.

WHY IT’S DELAYED

Unlike the FOI bill, the AMLA amendatory bill will be up for the President’s signature even after Congress has adjourned.

 

Anti-Trust Bill

WHAT IT SAYS

Patterned after similar legislation in the United States, the proposed Philippine Fair Competition Act seeks to penalize anti-competitive agreements, arrangements, practices, and mergers for a healthier business environment. Under the bill, a Philippine Fair Competition Commission will be established to ensure that businesses do not abuse their “dominant position” and do not resort to uncompetitive and unfair arrangements and practices.

WHAT IT MEANS

The law’s proponents say it would complement the economic reforms that have been implemented by the Aquino administration. The proposed law will prohibit cartels, which it defines as a “combination of firms, providing goods in relevant markets, acting or joined together to obtain a shared monopoly to control production, sale and price, or to obtain control in any particular industry or commodity, or a group of firms that agree to restrict trade.”

WHY IT’S DELAYED

Before the 15th Congress went on recess, the Anti-Trust bill was considered for second reading. It will have to wait until the start of the 16th Congress, as lawmaakers chose to prioritize the approval of the AMLA amendatory bill.

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