In The Face Of Adversity

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(Excerpts of the speech of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon Adjournment Sine Die of the 1st Regular Session of the 16th Congress June 11, 2014)

Since we opened the 16th Congress in July last year, it has been a difficult and challenging journey for the Senate. I would like to thank the members of this august chamber for remaining composed and focused on our mandate despite the barrage of harsh and relentless criticisms directed at our beloved institution when the PDAF controversy surfaced last year.

The openness in which we have allowed media to report on this matter and the trust we have for our legal processes show how strong we have built our democratic foundations to withstand political turmoil.

However, we cannot deny that the PDAF controversy has cast a long, dark shadow over the institution. And we completely understand the people’s outrage. Thus, the members of this august chamber collectively sought ways to address the issue.

We abolished the PDAF even before the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. We conducted our own investigation on the alleged misuse of the pork barrel funds.

By undertaking these measures, we are telling our people that the Senate is listening to their pleas and clamors for reforms. We are sending a clear and strong message that their Senate is sensitive to their grievances and concerns.

Amid these spirit-breaking challenges, I am certain that each one of us only has the nation’s and institution’s best interest at heart. We might be going through turbulent times right now, but I am confident that, in time, we will be able to restore the people’s respect and trust in the Senate.

Glory and Honor
We must not lose sight of our ultimate goal, which is to provide a better life for each Filipino; a life that is not wanting in choices and opportunities.

Neither should we forget that the Senate, a bastion of democracy, has a glorious beginning and a history of honor in public service. And we shall endeavor to bring back that glory and honor.

Even if the PDAF scandal was constantly hogging the headlines and trending in the social media for months, and despite the severe public beating, the Senate continues to work around the clock, deliberating on bills and crafting measures that would significantly improve the life of our countrymen.

Despite the controversies and political intrigues that incessantly plague the institution, we have persevered and continue to discharge our duties to the Republic and to the people.

The First Regular Session of the 16th Congress has afforded us the opportunity to prove the stability of our institution in the face of adversity. This august chamber, which has traditionally reveled in the confidence of the electorate and consistently maintained its prominence, has been battered by, perhaps, the gravest crisis to have ever crossed its path. In my 16 years in the Senate, never before have I witnessed this kind of turmoil.

As we continue to brave through the unforgiving blizzard of scandals and controversies, our commitments and vows to the people serve as our guiding light on the road to recovery and redemption.

Against Doubts
While we defend our institution against doubts to its integrity, our constituents are faced with a tougher fight – a fight for survival as natural disasters hitting the nation in recent years are evolving with terrifying intensity and frequency.

In 2013, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded ripped through the Visayas and left a trail of devastation of epic proportions, from which residents of the region are still staggering to recover.

In this light, we worked for the timely enactment of measures to enable our people to quickly get back on their feet.

Among these measures is *RA 10633*, which was enacted in record time and established the national budget for 2014 at P2.265 trillion. Since calamity-stricken areas necessitate prompt delivery of basic services, social services received bulk of the allocation at P841.8 billion, representing 37.2% of the national budget.

This measure also introduced the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program, which apportioned P20 billion to empower the victims of the most tragic natural and man-made calamities in the past year, specifically, the typhoons Yolanda, Santi, Odette, Pablo, Sendong, Vinta, Labuyo, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, and the Zamboanga City siege.

Aside from measures capacitating our people to pull through in the face of successive mishaps, we enacted *RA 10635*, which established the MARINA as a single and central maritime administration to comply with international standards, and therefore averted the possible employment ban against 80,000 Filipino seafarers in the European Union.

Resilience to Calamities
Among these bills is *HB 353* which forms part of the government’s continuing mission to boost our country’s resilience to calamities by mandating telecommunications service providers to send free mobile alerts in the event of natural and man-made disasters.

Under the bill, the alerts shall consist of updated information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas.

Also on the list is the proposed *Graphic Health Warning Law*, which seeks to increase the awareness of the public especially among the youth on the harmful and deadly effects of smoking.
Under the bill, graphic health warnings in full color shall be printed on at least 50% of the principal display surface of tobacco packages sold in the market.

We believe that the passage of this proposed measure will bring us closer to our goal of protecting the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.

On the other hand, also awaiting the President’s approval is our *proposed amendments to the Act Liberalizing the Scope and Entry of Operations of Foreign Banks*. This bill aims to expand the participation of qualified foreign banks in our financial sector in preparation for the forthcoming ASEAN economic integration.

Under this measure, reputable and financially sound foreign banks shall be allowed to acquire up to 100% of the voting stocks of domestic banks. We are confident that, with greater foreign participation in our banking sector, we shall have access to a bigger pool of financial resources in order to support various infrastructure projects and other development initiatives.

Resolve to Fulfill Duty
Another priority measure that hurdled both houses of Congress is*the bill extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways* as its charter is set to expire this month.

Recognizing the importance of PNR’s uninterrupted service to the riding public, both houses worked intently to ensure this measure’s swift passage in their respective domains.

The Senate has shown a strong resolve to fulfill its duty to the nation, with fervor and determination. Never have we neglected our obligation to the people, despite our present difficulties. Even as we take a respite, we shall endeavor to recover the people’s faith in the Senate as a democratic institution.

Thank you very much.

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