SENATE PRESIDENT Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III said on Thursday, Oct. 12, there will be no delay in the chamber’s passage of priority bills identified by Malacañang, despite the additional work of conducting an impeachment trial on Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres D. Bautista.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon impeached Mr. Bautista after he announced that morning his resignation, which has yet to be acknowledged by the Comelec and by the Palace.
‘CALENDAR TOO TIGHT’
With that development, “The deliberations on the proposed 2018 national budget and the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Act will have to take a backseat once the Senate begins the impeachment trial against Chairman Andy Bautista,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement on Thursday, referring to the two most urgent measures being pushed by the Palace as a foundation of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s economic program.
“The impeachment trial is a constitutional duty that the Senate is bound to perform without any delay. We should give it the highest priority,” Mr. Drilon said in his statement, citing Section 3 (4) of Article XI of the Constitution: “In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.”
With an impeachment trial being the priority, delay in passing important legislation is “unavoidable,” Mr. Drilon said.
“Our calendar is too tight and the impeachment case will eat up a lot of our time when we resume session in November. Legislative work will be seriously affected and that is a matter that the leadership should highly consider,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel said, when sought for comment, “There will not be any delay bec(ause) we will hold trial on days when we are off from legis(lative) work. Trial on TH(ursday,) F(riday,) SAT(urday).”
In an earlier radio interview, Mr. Pimentel also said if the impeachment trial stretches until Dec. 31 this year, the supposed date of Mr. Bautista’s last day in office, the proceedings will be stopped.
“Let’s say, kung meron talaga siyang (if he really has a) resignation letter, kasi wala pa naman kaming (because we still don’t have a)certified true copy (of that), kung meron talagang (if there really is a) resignation letter, and then he is separated (from) government service, wala na (it’s done). Dapat stop na ang impeachment (The impeachment [trial] should stop),” Mr. Pimentel said.
Also sought for comment, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chair of the Senate ways and means committee and sponsor of the proposed Senate version of the tax reform bill, said the Senate “will prioritize the budget and the TRAIN although we are duty-bound to hear any impeachment.”
“I think both the TRAIN and the budget bills will pass before the Christmas recess of Congress,” Mr. Angara said in a text message.
Executive Director Ramon C. Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, when also contacted for comment, said the impeachment trial “will certainly delay all Senate work.”
“Impeachment trumps all, maybe except the budget,” Mr. Casiple said in a text message.
The Senate adjourns this week and will resume session on Nov. 13, Monday. The chamber is expected to tackle on that day until Nov. 15 the TRAIN bill, now on its period of amendments.
As for the proposed P3.77-trillion 2018 national budget, this is also “in the period of interpellation, with many controversial items yet to be tackled,” Mr. Drilon said.
Senator Loren B. Legarda, who heads the Senate committee on finance, has said interpellation will resume on Nov. 16 or 17 (Thursday or Friday), with the period of amendments scheduled on Nov. 20 (Monday) and the Senate expected to approve the budget on second and third reading by Nov. 22.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III had said on Wednesday the impeachment trial is likely to begin on the last week of November (Nov. 26 to Dec. 2) or the first week of December (Dec. 3 to 9).
Ms. Legarda said a bicameral meeting on the budget will likely be on the last week of November.
Congress will go on recess on Dec. 16 for the Christmas break. — Mario M. Banzon