Senate: No need for bicam meet on Road Board abolition

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — The Senate has agreed Monday in an all-members caucus that it is standing pat on its assertion that there is no need for a bicameral conference committee meeting on the abolition of the Road Board.

"Insofar as the Senate is concerned, we have adopted the House version, and therefore, there are no disagreeing provisions. We stand firm on our position that we finished the process and now, we will submit the printed copy, or what we call the enrolled copy, to the President for his consideration," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

Drilon said the Senate could simply transmit the enrolled bill even without the signature of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as Congress leaders do not have the power to block the passage of a measure by simply refusing to sign it.

"That is in effect a veto. The presiding officers cannot veto the act of their respective chambers," he said.

Drilon said senators also asked Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri to sit down with House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya to convey their position.

Congressional procedures only require a bicameral conference committee meeting when the Senate and the House passed different versions of a measure. In a bicameral meeting, representatives from both chambers discuss how to thresh out the differences to come up with a unified bill.

But senators contend that there is no need to convene a bicameral meeting as the Senate has adopted the House's version of the bill abolishing the Road Board and splitting the motor vehicles users' charge (MVUC), which it manages, into four trust funds, separately overseen by the public works, transportation and environment departments.

Drilon said convening a bicameral meeting would require the Senate to rescind its passage of the House's Road Board abolition measure, which the lower chamber earlier rescinded.

But the Senate is not completely shutting its doors to a bicameral conference committee meeting, Zubiri said.

The Senate majority leader said both chambers could agree to hold a bicameral meet should they agree on minor amendments to the measure.

"We can discuss the parameters kasi kung marami sila (House) planong i-amend na sa tingin namin sa Senado ay medyo kontrobersyal at baka matagalan pa ang measure na ito, we might just stick to our position to adopt the approved House version," Zubiri said.

[Translation:We can discuss the parameters because if they (House) plan to amend many provisions which we, at the Senate, deem a bit controversial and may further delay this measure, we might just stick to our position to adopt the approved House version.]

Zubiri said some senators want the Road Board completely abolished and the fund be reverted to the national treasury to allow the government to use it for whatever purpose.

But Andaya has other ideas.

"The President gave a new directive. He wants the money for disaster-stricken areas. That completely shoots down both of our proposals," he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Speaking at a briefing on the effects of Tropical Depression Usman, Duterte vowed that the disaster-prone Bicol Region would be the first to benefit from the abolition of the Road Board and the funds it manages.

But Andaya said Congress cannot legally do this without a supplemental budget coming from the Executive department as the MVUC collections managed by the Road Board are not reflected in the proposed 2019 budget.

"We don't see that happening yet. It's forthcoming," he said.

Article VI, Section 25 (1) of the Constitution bars Congress from increasing appropriations recommended by the President.

Duterte has advocated for the abolition of the Road Board, which state auditors have repeatedly hit for alleged anomalies.