TWO former Senate presidents have warned lawmakers against “correcting” text in the enrolled bill of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), saying this would certainly be open to legal challenge—even possible prosecution of involved parties. They cited only two ways to redress reported errors that have been attributed to the “hasty” passage of the measure on third and final reading at the Senate on May 31.
Former Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III backed up the warning raised earlier by his predecessor as Senate chief now Minority Leader Aquilino Martin “Koko” dlL. Pimentel. Pimentel has warned against the current attempts by the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Mark A. Villar, with the backing of top Senate officers, to correct conflicting provisions in the Senate version as adopted by the House of Representatives.
Pimentel repeated his warning in a radio interview that followed Sotto’s.
“E, bawal ‘yan, eh. Dun sa rules ay hindi allowed,” Sotto said in a radio interview. [That’s not allowed; the rules doesn’t allow that.]
Sotto, who has served as majority leader to nine Senate Presidents and Speakers, said he had “doubts that it will be allowed by Malacañang,” given, he said, “maraming magagaling na tao dun [there are many experts there].”
The latter remark hints at a possible veto by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in order to force a return of the bill to plenary in both chambers when the Second Regular Session of the 19th Congress reopens on July 24.
SOTTO offered lawmakers the option to “return it to the bicam [bicameral conference] committee to tackle the conflicting provisions” and clarify and correct them, and then return it to plenary for ratification anew by both chambers.
He explained that the bicameral panel can only table anew the questioned provision if it was ever discussed in the original bicameral meeting. The latter apparently happened rather hastily because the Lower House sent word to Senate leaders they were adopting the version passed by Senators at 2:32 a.m.
Passage in quick succession on second reading, third reading and final reading was possible because Marcos had certified the Maharlika bill as priority.
In a separate radio interview on Thursday, Pimentel lashed out at the majority for its “haste” in passing the MIF “at an unholy hour,” when serious matters like these, he said, should be tackled in regular work hours. He scolded them for invoking “human frailty” in the errors in the bill, saying such would not have happened if the majority did not railroad the measure. The MIF was approved with 19 votes, one No vote by Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, and one abstention by Sen. Nancy Binay. Pimentel, as well as Sens. Chiz Escudero and Imee Marcos had already gone home when the vote was made at dawn.
SOTTO and Pimentel warned against tinkering with the enrolled bill because of reports that Villar had written Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri to make known his recollection of what transpired during the period of amendments, with the expectation that the conflicting prescriptive periods in the penal provisions in two sections of the measure would simply be corrected by the Senate secretariat.
“Hindi puedeng ganun; kailangan sa plenary ayusin nila, [That cannot be; that should be redressed in plenary],” Sotto said, or “at the bicameral at the very least.”
For his part, Pimentel said, “walang isang senador ang may karapatang i-replace ang interpretation niya sa interpretation ng plenaryo.” [No senator has the right to replace the interpretation of the plenary with his interpretation.]
“Huwag na nilang kalikutin. Otherwise, this could be a major issue that could be raised in the Supreme Court. Pag ginalaw nila ’yun after ratification, sabit ’yun,” he warned. [Don’t mess with it. Otherwise, this could be a major issue that could be raised in the Supreme Court. It would be a problem if they tinker with it after ratification.]
What apparently happened, Pimentel said, was that the presiding chairman accepted an amendment by a senator, but the working draft was not touched, or made to reflect the amendment.
PIMENTEL said that invoking human error won’t cut it, stressing that the Senate proceedings are so over-chronicled precisely to ensure 100-percent accuracy in documenting the work of lawmakers. “That’s why we have [a] technical staff for senators, we have [an army of] stenographers; now, there’s even live-streaming,” precisely to ensure faithfulness in recording, the lawmaker added. But if errors were indeed made, they cannot simply be corrected by a letter from the sponsor and an order to the secretariat to change the errors, Pimentel further explained. He urged the President to veto the problematic bill, which the latter had wanted enacted by the time he delivers his State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Pimentel, a Bar topnotcher, replying to a query by a radio host, conceded the possibility that the efforts to tinker with the enrolled bill might partake of a “criminal offense kung ginalaw na hindi sang ayon sa tamang proseso.” [if done not according to proper process.]