Senators and congressmen are sprinting to get work done before June 4, when they will adjourn "sine die" -- that's a summer break of sorts in between regular sessions. They will not reconvene until the State of the Nation Address in July.
To ensure that priority bills are passed, Senate President Vicente Sotto III scheduled extra sessions on Thursdays, instead of just Mondays to Wednesdays. That's how tight the schedule is for the Senate and the House.
The “Calendar of Session” sets the dates when Congress is in session or not. But what happens if lawmakers fail to pass bills during session? And what do they do when they are on break?
What is the legislative calendar?
Understanding the legislative calendar and how it sets the pace for lawmaking can be traced back to where it all started --- the national elections.
Every three years, Filipinos elect 12 of the 24 members of the Senate and the entire membership of the House of Representatives, composed of 80% district representatives and 20% party-list representatives.
After the elections, the bicameral legislature is convened. In the 2019 elections, a total of 319 lawmakers were elected to form the 18th Congress of the Philippines. Every Congress lasts for three years, which is tied to the three-year term of House members. Since they are elected for a six-year term, senators who won in 2019 will serve in the 18th and 19th Congress.
Each Congress opens on the fourth Monday of July immediately following the elections, on the same day the President delivers his State of the Nation Address. The 18th Congress, for instance, opened on July 22, 2019.
The Senate and the House will then convene once a year for their regular session and will continue to hold sessions during the dates specified in their legislative calendar. The first year of the regular session is called the First Regular Session, followed by the Second Regular Session in the second year, and the Third Regular Session in the third year.
Each regular session has its own legislative calendar, jointly approved by the Senate and the House. Normally, each session starts on the fourth Monday of July until October, during which the national budget for the following year is tackled. The two houses will then go on a session break from October to November, coinciding with All Saint’s Day.
The session will resume for about a month until the third week of December, allowing lawmakers to take a Christmas break. The session resumes again in January of the following year until March or April, in time for the Holy Week. Lawmakers will meet again after a month to continue their sessions until the first week June before going on a “sine die” break.
The “sine die” (Latin for “without day”) break is the 30-day period between the adjournment of a regular session and the convening of the next regular session of the same Congress. Usually, no committee meetings are held during this break, and Congress takes the time to prepare for the convening of the next regular session and the President’s SONA.
Here’s the approved legislative calendar for the Second Regular Session of the 18th Congress:
MORE POLITICS EXPLAINED:
What happens during session breaks?
When Congress is not in session, the two houses usually focus on measures in the committee level. Once these measures are approved by the committees, they will be calendared for plenary deliberations when Congress resumes sessions again.
Lawmakers also take the time to do constituency work during session breaks. Congressmen go back to their legislative districts to attend to the needs of their constituents. Senators also usually travel to different parts of the country to oversee the status of their programs and projects.
Of course, the adjournment of session also allows lawmakers to take a break from the tedious legislative work. Since session breaks take place during the holidays, legislators get to spend time with their family and do personal activities.
What happens when lawmakers fail to approve laws during session?
The legislative calendar plays a crucial role in the enactment of a measure into law. Hundreds of bills and resolutions are filed every Congress, and due to the heavy work in the legislature, not all of them gets approved before Congress adjourns session.
When a measure fails to get the approval of either the Senate or the House during a specific Congress, due to lack of time or simply lack of support from lawmakers, it can be refiled in the succeeding Congress for a new round of deliberations. The case is the same for measures that were approved by one chamber but did not pass the other chamber.
For instance, the Senate during the 16th Congress approved on the third and final reading the Freedom of Information Bill, but the House failed to act upon on it due to lack of time. The measure has since been filed again and again in Congress.
The late Cebu City Rep. Raul Del Mar also refiled the bill allowing the use of motorcycles for public transport in the 18th Congress, after it failed to get the Senate approval in the 17th Congress due to “lack of time of upon congressional adjournment.”
Other measures that had to be refiled after failing to get the approval of one chamber include the death penalty bill, the divorce bill, the SOGIE Equality Bill, and the measure seeking to legalize medical marijuana.
For now, the Senate and the House are working to approve several important measures before they adjourn session on June 4, including the proposed Department of Filipino Overseas, the amendments to the Public Service Act, and the measure aiding micro and small businesses affected by the pandemic. It's only a matter of time (or the lack thereof) that we can see these measures turn into actual laws.