Home>Editorial>Opinion>Defacing legislation

Defacing legislation

Call it legislative disfigurement – going out of the box on the intent and spirit of the law.

How ironic, even outrageous, indeed!

Lawmakers go through the rigorous motion of filing bills, defending them in committee and in plenary, collectively refining them, voting on them, reconciling them with versions from the other chamber, approving the final version, and submitting them for presidential signing into law.

Some bills make it all the way; some don’t.

But even those which make it to the final stage still suffer extraneous infirmities down he road.

A freshman but very discerning senator has noted a yawning disconnect between aims or goals of a law and the corresponding implementing mechanisms crafted by the Executive department.

Sen. Francis Tolentino has called out the supposed practice of crafting “deformed and unrecognizable” implementing rules and regulations for the laws by concerned government agencies, thereby going beyond or even against the intention behind the legislation, which ultimately defied the sovereign will of the people.

“The spring cannot rise higher than the source,” Tolentino stressed, referring to the legal maxim in describing the IRRs as going beyond what is provided for in the law, in his privilege speech Monday.

“The spring is not just rising higher, but it threatens to overflow and spill from the source and drown us all. The IRRs have not only misinterpreted our laws, but ultimately defied the will of the people as the real sovereign imbibed in our laws,” he said.

Pointing out the hard work of his fellow legislators behind the passage of every law, Tolentino said: “I rise today out of fear and apprehension that the very laws that my colleagues are working on, lahat po nang ginagawa nilang batas may be twisted, deformed, mutilated and become unrecognizable IRRs.”

Based on his initial research, the Supreme Court had already shed light on the clash between the law and IRR estimated at around 50 or 60 cases.

Makati City Pabakuna

To address this conflict, the lawmaker said: “Without overstepping the finely drawn lines between the three branches of government, I propose a few actions that can help bridge the gaps between future laws and their respective IRRs. We can study and amend the Senate rules of procedure to allow legislators to craft with the government agency concerned a draft of the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed bill prior to it becoming signed into law.”

He also proposed that succeeding laws and its corresponding IRRs be submitted to an oversight committee composed of the concerned Senate committee which prepared the bills.

Among the cases cited by Sen. Tolentino was Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines versus Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III (GR 173034) in 2007, wherein the High Court tackled the validity of the IRR of Executive Order 51, otherwise known as the Milk Code.

“The Milk Code limited its coverage to infants 0-12 months old but the IRR extended it to young children up to three years. The Milk Code allowed advertisements as long as they were approved by the agency, but the IRR prohibited them totally,” said Tolentino, adding that it was as if DoH made a new law by itself.

Also cited was GMA-7 versus the Commission on Elections (G.R. 205357) in 2014 wherein the High Court struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the IRR of the poll body for being contrary to the Fair Elections Act.

“Under the law, each candidate for national and local elective office shall be entitled to not more than 120 minutes and 60 minutes of television advertisement and 180 and 90 minutes of radio advertisement, respectively, without distinguishing whether the time limits were aggregate or on a per station basis,” he explained.

“However, COMELEC went beyond the authority granted to it by law when it adopted the ‘aggregate’ basis in determining the allowable airtime and not in a per station basis, drastically reducing the air-time allotted to the candidates,” he added.

Moreover, in Imbong v. Ochoa (G.R. 204819) back in 2014, the IRR of the Reproductive Health Law redefined the meaning of “abortifacient” and “contraceptive” as found in the law.

Following his public address in the Senate, several lawmakers -Senate President Tito Sotto, Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Joel Villanueva, Pia Cayetano, Manny Pacquiao and Richard Gordon – backed Tolentino’s call.

Senate President Sotto vowed to act quickly on resolving the issue of the conflict between the laws and IRRs.

“Tama po sinabi ni Sen. Tolentino. It’s about time we review our rules and procedure,” added Zubiri.