Introduction to the Philippine Legislative Process
Bills, Resolutions, Amendments, Republic Acts. These are some of the words we hear whenever the Senate or House of Representatives releases a press statement about something that has either been proposed or passed their scrutiny. People always have something to say whenever they hear a proposal, but most think that a proposed bill is already a law.
Filipinos in general don’t know the legislative process, but they at least have an idea of how it goes. Expats, on the other hand, have no idea when something can be considered a law and when it’s merely a proposal.
Here’s our guide on the Philippine Legislative Process.
First off, the Congress is not just composed of congressmen. The Congress is the legislative branch of the country, and it consists of two chambers: the Senate (Upper House) and House of Representatives (Lower House).
Image grabbed from Inquirer.net
The Senate has 24 seats, half of which are voted on by the nation every 3 years. Each Senator serves a 6-year term, and can be a member of any of the 40 permanent committees. They cannot serve for more than 2 consecutive terms.
Image grabbed from Wikimedia Commons
The House of Representatives (HOR), on the other hand, is composed of 292 representatives serving 238 districts and 47 party lists. Each representative can be a member of the house’s 58 standing or 14 special committees. They serve a 3-year term and can be re-elected but cannot go beyond 3 consecutive terms.
Bills and Resolutions
The job of a Senator or a Representative is to make laws that uphold the spirit of the constitution. They can also amend or change the constitution itself. Senators and Representatives work on two documents: bills and resolutions.
A resolution conveys principles and sentiments of the Senate or the HOR. They are divided into:
- Joint resolutions – requires approval from the Senate, the HOR, and the signature of the President. They have the force and effect of a law once approved.
- Concurrent resolutions – used for matters affecting operations of both chambers and must be approved in the same form by both. These are not transmitted to the President; hence, they do not have the same force and effect of a law.
- Simple resolutions – deals with matters entirely within one of the chambers. As such, these are not referred to the President and do not have the force and effect of a law.
A bill, on the other hand, is a law in the making. These are the “proposed laws” or “proposed amendment” you hear about in the news, like House Bill No. 2379, which seeks to amend the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, the country’s 20-year-old tax code. House Bills are those made by a Representative, while Senate Bills are those made by a Senator.
From Bill to Republic Act: the Process
Going from a House or Senate Bill to a Republic Act is a long and arduous process. It takes 3 readings and an approval from both chambers along with the signature of the President before a bill can become a law, known in the Philippines as a Republic Act.
The full process is outlined by the 1987 Constitution. An infographic of this can be seen on the Official Gazette.
The process goes along as follows:
- Proposals and suggestions are taken from the President, government agencies, private individuals, interest groups, and legislators themselves.
- The author(s) then writes the bill and sign it before being filed with the Secretary General. For the 17th Congress, that person is Atty. Cesar S. Pareja.
- The bill then goes through three readings.
- The first reading consists of reading the title and author(s) and its referral to the appropriate committee(s). The committee then studies the bill and either submits it to the Committee on Rules or is laid on the table.
- The second reading comes after the bill has been included in the Calendar of Business by the Committee on Rules. This is when sponsorships, debates, and amendments take place. A vote is taken after all the debates and amendments, after which the bill is either archived or goes through a third reading.
- The third reading happens when the bill goes through a final check and vote via roll call. If it’s approved, it is then sent to the other house, where it goes through the same procedures. If not, it gets archived.
- After going through three readings from both houses, the conference committee of both houses ratifies the bill and submits it to the President for signing. If, however, there are conflicts in the provisions proposed by both Houses, a Bicameral Conference Committee is called upon to reconcile them.
- Once received by the Office of the President, the bill can take one of three routes:
- Approved. Once it is approved by the President, it becomes a Republic Act and takes effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or at least two national newspapers of general circulation;
- Vetoed. The bill is returned to the originating house with an explanation on why it was vetoed. The house can either accept the veto or override it with a 2/3 (majority) vote, after which it is essentially approved, and takes effect 15 days after being publicized.
- Lapsed into law. A bill is said to have lapsed into law if the President fails to act on it within 30 days after receiving the bill. It takes effect 15 days after being publicized.