Nicolas and De Vega Law Offices Article - How a Bill Becomes Law

Legal Bases of Passing or Enacting Republic Acts in the Philippines

Here, we discuss how a law in the Philippines, known as a Republic Act, is passed and becomes law.

Laws in the Philippines are currently in the form of Republic Acts. The Philippine Constitution limits the power of Congress to enact Republic Acts. The procedure is generally outlined in the Philippine Constitution itself, though both houses of Congress, known as the lower house of Congress, or the House of Representatives which is composed of congressmen, and the other is the upper house, which is the Senate of the Philippines, have their own internal rules of procedure. The following provisions of the Constitution outline the power of Congress to enact laws and legislation:

1. Every bill passed by the Congress shall embrace only one subject which shall be expressed in the title thereof. (Article VI, Section 26(1), Philippine Constitution of 1987)

2. No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days, and printed copies thereof in its final form have been distributed to its Members three days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency. Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal. (Article VI, Section 26(2).)

3. Every bill passed by the Congress shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President. If he approves the same, he shall sign it; otherwise, he shall veto it and return the same with his objections to the House where it originated, which shall enter the objections at large in its Journal and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such reconsideration, two-thirds of all the Members of such House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of all the Members of that House, it shall become a law. In all such cases, the votes of each House shall be determined by yeas or nays, and the names of the Members voting for or against shall be entered in its Journal. The President shall communicate his veto of any bill to the House where it originated within thirty days after the date of receipt thereof; otherwise, it shall become a law as if he had signed it. (Article VI, Section 27.)

The Legislative Process

Before a congressional bill becomes a law, it has to undergo a process with both houses of Congress, namely the Lower House, or the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines.

The following is an outline of the legislative process, as mandated by the Constitution, and implemented by House of Representatives Rules of Procedure:


First Reading of the Bill

The Member or the Bill Drafting Division of the Reference and Research Bureau prepares and drafts the bill upon the Member’s request. The Bill undergoes its First Reading. The bill is filed with the Bills and Index Service and the same is numbered and reproduced. Three days after its filing, the same is included in the Order of Business for First Reading.

On First Reading, the Secretary General reads the title and number of the bill. The Speaker refers the bill to the appropriate Committee/s.

The appropriate Committee evaluates the Bill, conducts public hearings, makes recommendations, and transmits the same to Plenary Session for appropriate action. The Committee where the bill was referred to evaluates it to determine the necessity of conducting public hearings.

If the Committee finds it necessary to conduct public hearings, it schedules the time thereof, issues public notices and invites resource persons from the public and private sectors, the academe, and experts on the proposed legislation. If the Committee finds that public hearing is not needed, it schedules the bill for Committee discussion/s.

Based on the result of the public hearings or Committee discussions, the Committee may introduce amendments, consolidate bills on the same subject matter, or propose a substitute bill. It then prepares the corresponding committee report. The Committee approves the Committee Report and formally transmits the same to the Plenary Affairs Bureau.


Second Reading of the Bill

The Bill undergoes its Second Reading. The Committee Report is registered and numbered by the Bills and Index Service. It is included in the Order of Business and referred to the Committee on Rules. The Committee on Rules schedules the bill for consideration on Second Reading.

On Second Reading, the Secretary General reads the number, title and text of the bill and the following takes place:

1. Period of Sponsorship and Debate

2. Period of Amendments

3. Voting which may be by viva voce, count by tellers, division of the House; or nominal voting

However, based on the above outlined procedure, the approval thereof by the Committee is merely recommendatory. The Bill will still undergo the second and third reading, before it is sent to the President for his veto or approval. Hence, the nothing conclusive may be drawn from the approval of the bill at the Committee stage, except that one may get a bird’s eye view of the subjective opinions or objections of the members of the Committee regarding the approval of the proposed pieces of legislation.

It is only after the Third Reading that the disposition of the Bill becomes categorical.


Third Reading of the Bill

The Bill undergoes its Third and final Reading. The amendments, if any, are engrossed and printed copies of the bill are reproduced for Third Reading.

The engrossed bill is included in the Calendar of Bills for Third Reading and copies of the same are distributed to all the Members three days before its Third Reading.

On Third Reading, the Secretary General reads only the number and title of the bill. A roll call or nominal voting is called and a Member, if he desires, is given three minutes to explain his vote. No amendment on the bill is allowed at this stage.

The bill is approved by an affirmative vote of a majority of the Members present. If the bill is disapproved, the same is transmitted to the Archives. The approved bill is transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence.

The Same Procedure with the Senate is Repeated.

After the Bill is approved with the lower house of Congress, it will be transmitted to the Senate. The bill undergoes the same legislative process in the Senate. Thus, the Bill will proceed with steps outlined above, but this time before the Senate.

Procedure before the Bi-Cameral Conference Committee

Once approved by both Houses of Congress, a Bi-Cameral Conference Committee is formed to deliberate, integrate, and reconcile the changes and amendments of the different Bills which were passed before both Houses of Congress.

A Conference Committee is formed to amend, revise, and finalize the Bill. A Conference Committee is constituted and is composed of Members from each House of Congress to settle, reconcile, or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill.

The conferees are not limited to reconciling the differences in the bill but may introduce new provisions germane to the subject matter or may report out an entirely new bill on the subject.

The Conference Committee prepares a report to be signed by all the conferees and the Chairman. The Conference Committee Report is submitted for consideration/approval of both Houses. No amendment is allowed.

Copies of the bill, signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and certified by both the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House, are transmitted to the President.

Approval or Veto by the President

The President may do any of the following: 

a. If the bill is approved by the President, the same is assigned an RA number and transmitted to the House where it originated.

b. If the bill is vetoed by the President, the bill, together with a message citing the reason for the veto, is transmitted to the House where the bill originated.

The approved/vetoed Bill then goes back to Congress for appropriate action, to wit:

a. If the Bill is approved, the bill is reproduced, and copies are sent to the Official Gazette Office for publication and distribution to the implementing agencies. It is then included in the annual compilation of Acts and Resolutions.

b. If the Bill is vetoed, the message is included in the Order of Business. If the Congress decides to override the veto, the House and the Senate shall proceed separately to reconsider the bill or the vetoed items of the bill. If the bill or its vetoed items is passed by a vote of two-thirds of the Members of each House, such bill or items shall become a law.

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