Congress Resumes Session; Senate to Focus on Nat'l budget,House on Political Reform Bill

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Byline: GABRIEL MABUTAS and BEN R. ROSARIO

Congress resumes its session today after it has gone into a recess for a month for the Yuletide season, with the Senate giving focus to this year's proposed national budget and other urgent administration bills and the House of Representatives to the proposed Political Reform Act.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said that his chamber will prioritize the budget even as the leadership of the Senate majority bloc changes following the defection of Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda to the opposition.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia said the proposed Political Reform Act that seeks to put an end to political campaign corruption has been placed high on the agenda of the lower chamber.

"When we start our session, we would tackle the 2004 national budget and we intend to pass it before the month is over, by Jan. 30 or, at the latest, on Feb. 6," De Venecia said.

"Once we are able to pass that, there should be no need for the supplemental budget as the regular 2004 budget should contain the salary increases for the uniformed personnel (military and police) and the required budget for the conduct of the 2004 elections," the Senate chief said.

He said that aside from the budget bill, the chamber will also tackle other pending measures in its priority agenda.

"We intend to ratify the bicameral conference committee reports on the optical media and securitization measures," Drilon said.

"We also intend to pass on third reading the Anti-Terrorism and Clean Water (bills) and the Alternative Dispute Resolution, which is aimed at unclogging court dockets of many pending cases ," he said.

The Senate President said he would call all the senators to a caucus this week to discuss the chamber's agenda within the remaining session days which will end on Feb. 6.

He said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, as the chamber's assistant majority leader, is expected to succeed Legarda as majority leader.

Earlier, Drilon announced that Legarda had already agreed to yield her Senate post in favor of Pangilinan, who had said that the majority block has the last say on the matter.

Drilon said that Legarda must vacate the majority leadership because of her joining the opposition.

Legarda bolted Lakas earlier but continued as Senate majority leader as an independent senator.

When she joined the opposition to become the running mate of Fernando Poe Jr., the standard bearer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), Drilon hinted of a leadership change in the Senate majority bloc.

Drilon later announced that Legarda had agreed to graciously vacate her post as majority leader.

Over at the House, observers believe that the resumption of session will be marked by numerous absences of solons. But House leaders remain confident that a quorum will be reached when session opens at 2 p.m. today.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said that also on the list of priorities of the House are the proposed national land use law; a bill granting compensation to Marcos era human rights victims; and the anti-terrorism bill. …