Proper committee reports

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    SENATE President Vicente Sotto III may have said a couple of booboos in the past. He may have proposed ideas in governance that are close to being ridiculous. But his latest take on the proper flow of committee reports in the Senate is worthy of praise.

    Sotto said draft committee reports on hearings done in aid of legislation should reach floor debates for approval by the Senate in plenary.

    “Because if the committee report is not approved by the plenary, that is just a piece of paper. It should be approved by the Senate so it becomes a Senate committee report,” Sotto said.

    A report by a Senate committee takes on much importance because it may indicate amendments suggested, debated on, and adopted at the committee level, and may propose changes in existing laws. Under the Rules of the Senate, the committee must meet within 15 days of conclusion of a Senate inquiry to begin the consideration of its report, which will need approval of a majority of the members to be adopted.

    The Rules also direct the committee to file the report with the Secretary of the Senate for inclusion in the next Order of Business. The report shall then be referred to the Committee on Rules for listing in the Senate’s calendar.

    In sticking to the Rules, Sotto inadvertently stepped on the toes of the previous Senate, of which he was also a member, and under which it became commonplace to release committee reports without passing the plenary. Under this arrangement, media leaks of even draft reports were usual occurrences.

    The Senate President’s sudden shift to being a stickler of the rules came at a very opportune time – when the twin committees on justice and blue ribbon are about to finalize the draft of their first important investigation: on the Good Conduct Time Allowance at the national prisons, and the rogue police officers accused of making off with seized drugs in an operation in Pampanga in 2013.

    The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee earlier released its preliminary report recommending the filing of drug and graft complaints against former PNP chief Oscar Albayalde and 13 of his former subordinates over the 2013 scandal. In fact, the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group has filed a complaint against Albayalde, but the controversy continues because critics such as PDEA chief Aaron Aquino and Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong said the charges were weak and the evidence thin.

    It is still a long way off before the people really benefit by way of strong legislation from these month-long Senate committee hearings, but at least the senators are trying their best to cope with the almost never-ending problems.

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