All three treaties pending ratification in the Senate will be up for discussion on 24 January, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III assured on Tuesday.
Sotto gave the assurance despite the extended suspension of plenary sessions this week amid the spike in coronavirus infections among Senate personnel.
“There are three treaties that are pending. It was sponsored by Sen. Pimentel yesterday. We could not approve it on the same day, anyway so we’ll have two weeks to do that,” he said.
“But I think by Monday we’ll be able to ratify these treaties,” he told reporters in a virtual media briefing.
The treaties pending concurrence by the Senate are the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Treaty to Reduce Statelessness, and the Arms Trade Treaty.
Various business groups, economists and the Department of Trade and Industry have pressed the urgent ratification of the country’s membership to RCEP, fearing that the delay risks the Philippines missing out on a massive export market.
President Rodrigo Duterte ratified the treaty on 2 September 2021. It took effect on 1 January 2022 for 11 countries, namely: Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
“As a matter of fact, there was a precedent before that if the resolution we’re approving is a treaty we can dispense with the third reading,” Sotto said.
“We can do it again but to play safe, we’ll go with the three-day rule. We have enough time to do it anyway,” he added.
Both chambers of Congress have adjourned sessions until Monday due to the increase in Covid-19 cases among their workers. A total of 88 Senate employees tested positive for Covid-19, while 196 are in self-isolation and are working from home.
Sotto said the suspension will not affect the pace of the passage of priority legislation, stressing it had cleared the “more important actions” it had to take after passing on third and final reading all measures needing approval on Monday evening.
“If we’ll have sessions today and tomorrow, we’ll only have a period of interpellations. There are ongoing hearings and an ongoing bicameral conference committee (bicam) and they were more important. So, we’re still waiting for the bicam,” he said.
The Senate president noted that, “It’s a blessing in disguise that the bicam is scheduled this week so that when we resume Monday, hopefully, most if not all of the bicameral conference committee reports will be ratified by the Senate.”
Other measures that Senate lawmakers hope to pass before Congress adjourns in February, according to Sotto, are the Marawi Compensation Bill, and the proposed measure seeking additional benefits for healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez lauded Sotto’s announcement, saying “he hopes the Senate ratifies this very important trade deal, for more investments, jobs and income for the Filipinos.”
“We don’t want to be left behind,” Lopez said.
Earlier, he said the country cannot maximize its market access to export and trading partners due to the Philippines’ non-inclusion in RCEP.
Among the benefits are job opportunities abroad for Filipinos and reduced tariffs for Philippine exports.
“In addition, staying out or delaying the participation of the Philippines in the Agreement sends a signal to the international community, including potential investors, that the Philippines is not inclined to promote greater openness, create a more business-friendly environment, encourage closer integration of economies, and provide a more stable and predictable rules-based system of trade,” Lopez said.
More than 50 agricultural groups have signed a manifesto last December 2021, asking Senate lawmakers to junk RCEP.
The RCEP agreement was signed by the ministers of 10 ASEAN Member States and its five free trade agreement partners on 15 November 2020, taking effect 1 January 2022 for 11 countries.