The Congress : Upper House edition

Basically, the Philippine Congress is divided into two houses; the Upper House which is commonly known as the Senate, and the Lower House which is the House of Representatives. However, many of us know that the congress is only just the House of Representatives with ‘congressmen’ in the office. We must also change calling the politicians in the House of Representatives as Congressmen (discussion of the Lower House in the next post). The Congress is the Legislative Department of the Philippines and has the legislative power stated in Article 6, Section 1 of the Constitution. It is mandated to make laws for the people and for the country.

The Upper House is composed of 24 Senators who are elected at large. Meaning, they are elected in the national level, involving the whole island of the Philippines. Article 6, Section 4 of 1987 Philippine Constitution said that the term of office of the Senators shall be 6 years with no more than 2 consecutive terms. So, each elected Senator shall serve for 12 years, only if they win for another term. The idea is, if a Senator finished his or her terms, he/she shall have to rest for the next elections (which means for 3 years) because the Constitution says so. While other Senators literally go to rest, others are being appointed to any office of the government especially if they are closed or friends of the current President. For instances, Out-going senators Francis Pangilinan was in the news of accepting the post in the Department of Agriculture and Pamfilo Lacson in another office of the government. Others run as district representatives while some run for the local elections. It should be noted that Senators currently in the office shall not be held any positions in any branch of the government. They shall also disclose their business and financial interests so that no conflict will arise when they have to pass a law.

Before the 1995 elections, there are 24 senators elected every 3 years. The Transitory Provision annex in the Article 18, Section 2 of the Constitution provided what the current election for the Senate for only 12 Senators. In 1987, the Philippines elected 24 senators all until 1992, with 5 years in the office. In 1992 elections, the people elected 24 senators again but this time; they were ranked according to their places. Ranks 1 to 12 senators in the election will serve until 1998, with 6 years in the office. Ranks 13 to 24 senators until 1995 only. The 13th senator at that time was Gloria Arroyo who later became the Vice-President and President afterwards. This Transitory Provision gives us the idea of electing 12 new senators with 12 old senators remaining in the Senate. Practically, those 12 old senators act as the Electoral Tribunal for the qualifications of their members.

There are 4 important officials in the Senate. They are the Senate President, the Senate President Pro-Tempore, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader.

The Senate President (SP) presides over senate sessions. He also decides all points of order and signs all legislative measures, subpoenas and warrants of arrest. Annex in Article 7, Section 7 of the Constitution, the Senate President may become a President of the Philippines if no President or Vice-President shall have been elected. The Senate President Pro-Tempore (SPPT) is the one who substitutes the Senate President in some situations. He becomes the SP temporarily if the SP is absent. He also may permanently or temporarily become SP if the SP is incapacitated, resigned, removed for office or dead. These two positions are the most important. Heads of these offices are Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, respectively both from the same party, Partido ng Masang Pilipino.

The Majority Leader is another important in the Senate. He is the head of the Majority. Majority composed of senators who voted for the current Senate President. They may assign to important committees in the Senate. He also becomes an acting SP is the SP and the SPPT are absent or incapacitated. He is also the Chairman of the Committee on Rules. Currently, Senator Vicente Sotto, III is the Majority Leader. The Minority Leader, on the other hand, is the head of the Minority. Senators are in the minority if they did not vote for the current Senate President. Usually, those belong here do not get chairmanship of important committees. Head is Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

Speaking of committees, there are the so-called Permanent Committees in the Senate. It is tasked to tackle legislation in their respective jurisdictions. There are a total of 39 Permanent Committees in the Senate and may increase in number based in the need of the country. Senators hold 3-4 chairmanship of the committees especially those in the majority. The more important the permanent committees are, the more member senators are there. The SPPT, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader can be ex-officio members of all the permanent committees.

*These are all what I have learned in PolSci 14 under Prof. G. L. Pilapil


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