By Delon Porcalla, December 14,2022; The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The measure extending the three-year fixed term of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff to other military top brass led a total of 19 bills approved by lawmakers at the House of Representatives on third and final reading last Monday.

House Bill 6517, which seeks to strengthen the professionalism and promotion of the continuity of policies and modernization initiatives of the AFP, received an overwhelming 251 votes, with objection from three militant lawmakers.

The bill will limit the fixed tour of duty of three consecutive years, unless sooner terminated by the president, to just four officers: chief of staff, commanding general of the Army, commanding general of the Air Force and flag-officer-in-command of the Navy.

Under the existing Republic Act 11709, or the Act on Strengthening Professionalism in the AFP, which former president Rodrigo Duterte signed last April and became effective last July, only the AFP chief enjoys a fixed three-year term, unless revoked by the commander-in-chief.

The bicameral Congress will take its Christmas break starting Dec. 16.

Meanwhile, HB 3917, which aims to make agricultural smuggling “economic sabotage” and carry “no bail” for smugglers who will be indicted in courts, received overwhelming support on third and final reading with 245 votes.

The bill, authored by Rep. Sandro Marcos of Ilocos Norte and co-authored by PBA party-list Rep. Migs Nograles, aims to amend RA 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, that Duterte enacted into law.

The measure penalizes unlawful importation of tobacco, both in raw and finished products.

“I’m really happy that we were able to pass this measure before the Christmas break. Congressman Marcos and I are really hoping to provide some relief to our tobacco farmers, who are suffering because of rampant cigarette smuggling,” Nograles said.

Seventeen other bills received overwhelming final nods of mostly administration lawmakers, among them HB 6527 (Public-Private Partnership Act) with a vote of 254-3, HB 6557 (Magna Carta for Barangay Health Workers) with 258 votes, and HB 6523 (Revised National Apprenticeship Program Act) with 253-3.

Also approved were HB 6336 (Condoning Farmers’ Unpaid CARP Debt), HB 6524 (Extending the Implementation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to 2028), HB 6 (Ensuring Transparency, Competition in Data Transmission Industry), HB 4 (Regulating Internet Transactions), HB 6483 (Allowing Students with Unpaid School Fees to Take Exams), HB 6473 (Establishing the Philippine-Entrepreneurs Academy Act).

HB 6468 (Green Public Procurement Act), 6416 (SUCs Mental Health Service Act), HB 6509 (Providing Free Legal Assistance for Military and Uniformed Personnel), HB 6444 (Waste Treatment Technology Act), HB 6522 (Establishing the Philippine Centers for Disease Prevention and Control Act), HB 4337 (Declaring Ilocos Norte as the Garlic Capital of the Philippines), HB 6510 (New Passport Act that gives 50-percent discounts to seniors, and persons with disabilities) and HB 6518 (Augmenting Health Workforce during Disasters and Health Emergencies) also got the nod of lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Quezon 4th District Rep. Keith Micah Tan, one of the principal authors of HB 6522, welcomed the approval of his bill, which he said is urgently necessary as the country, just like most health systems around the world, is ill-prepared to address the challenges of pandemics such as COVID-19.

Tan also thanked the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez for supporting the swift passage of the measure.