In legislation, a bill refers to a draft proposal for the creation of a specific law that shall be implemented in the country. And just like any country with a similar government structure, a bill does not become a law in the Philippines unless it is passed by the two houses of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Once signed by the President, the bill is deemed enacted, becoming an act or a law. It will eventually be implemented by the respective agency in the executive branch of the government under the Office of the President.
So, how exactly does a bill become a law?
The Lawmaking Process in the Philippines
- The bill is prepared.
- The House of Representatives has its first reading.
- A Committee Consideration/Action session is held.
- The House of Representatives has its second reading.
- The House of Representatives has its third reading.
- The approved bill is transmitted to the Senate.
- A conference committee is assembled.
- The bill is transmitted to the President of the Philippines to be signed and passed.
1. Preparation of the Bill
As senators and representatives engage with their constituents, ideas for laws may come up. If lawmakers decide that solutions to the concerns of their constituents can be addressed by passing a law, they carefully study the ideas and write them into bills. Individuals and groups may also draft bills and ask their lawmakers to file them in Congress.
Furthermore, the president of the Philippines also outlines his or her legislative agenda during the annual State of the Nation Address (SONA). Different executive departments and agencies under the president will draft the relevant bills in support of the agenda of the president and transmit them to Congress for legislative action.
2. First Reading
Once the bill is finalized, it is filed with the Bills and Index Service and is numbered and reproduced. Three days after its filing, the proposed measure is included in the Order of Business for First Reading in the session. The session hall is where all lawmakers convene for a plenary session.
During the First Reading, the secretary of either the House of Representatives or the Senate reads the number and title of the bill. Then, the presiding officer—President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives—refers the bill to the appropriate committee.
3. Committee Consideration/Action
After the referral of the bill, the committee where the bill was referred to will determine if there is a need to conduct public hearings or not.
- If yes: Should it be decided that there is a need to conduct a public hearing, the committee then schedules the hearing, sends public notices containing the agenda as well as the time and venue of the hearing, and invites relevant resource persons from the government and the private sector and special interest groups to the meeting for their input.
- If no: On the other hand, should it be decided by the committee that there is no need to conduct a public hearing, they will just schedule the bill for committee discussions.
From the result of the public hearings or committee discussions, the bill may be amended, consolidated (if there are other similar bills filed), or be substituted with another bill by the committee.
A committee report is prepared after. Chiefly, a committee report designates the “purpose and scope of the bill, explains any committee amendments, indicates proposed changes in existing law and such other materials that are relevant,” per the Senate website.
Once the report is approved by the committee, it will be transmitted to the office which handles the processing of bills or resolutions and the documentation of plenary proceedings and debates in the plenary.
4. Second Reading
The Committee Report is registered and numbered by the Bills and Index Service and then included in the Order of Business and referred to the Committee on Rules, which has jurisdiction over all matters affecting the rules of the Senate or the House of Representatives, the calendar, parliamentary rules, the order and manner of transacting business, and the creation of committees. The Committee on Rules is headed by the Majority Leader of the Senate and the House of Representatives as chairperson.
The bill is then scheduled for consideration on Second Reading. This is one of the most challenging stages in passing a bill. During the Second Reading, the Secretary of the Senate or the Secretary General of the House of Representatives reads the number, title, and text of the bill.
Upon motion of the Majority Floor Leader, the floor will be opened for the Period of Sponsorship and Debate wherein the Committee Chairman reads the Sponsorship Speech for the bill. This will be followed by the interpellation or debate wherein the sponsor defends the merit of the proposed bill before his or her colleagues in session.
Once the period of Sponsorship and Debate is closed, the Period of Amendments is opened, wherein other lawmakers can propose the specific wordings, stylistics, and intents that they want to be included in the final version of the bill.
After the amendments, the bill’s approval for Second Reading will be voted on by all legislators of the house. Voting can be done either by viva voce (“aye” and "nay”), count by tellers, division of the house, or nominal voting.
5. Third Reading
After the Second Reading, the amendments proposed by the legislators are absorbed. Printed copies of the bill are then reproduced for Third Reading. The bill is then included in the Calendar of Bills for Third Reading and the copies are distributed to all the members three days before its reading in the plenary.
On the actual day, the secretary reads only the number and title of the bill. Then, upon motion of the Majority Leader, the roll call or nominal voting is called. By nominal voting, all the members cast their "yes" or "no" vote orally to the proposed measure and are given time to explain their vote. Amendments are no longer allowed during the Third Reading.
If the bill got a majority vote, it is considered approved. If it got disapproved, it is transmitted to the Archives of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
6. Transmittal of the Approved Bill to the Counterpart House
The Philippine Congress is a bicameral legislature composed of two co-equal houses: The House of Representatives and the Senate. Thus, a bill cannot become a law unless each house has given its nod on the proposed measure.
Once a bill is approved, for example, at the House of Representatives, it is then transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence and undergoes the same process in the Senate. The same is also true when the Senate passes a bill, it transmits it to the House of Representatives for its concurrence.
7. Conference Committee
Granting that the bill has also passed in the other house of Congress, there are instances when the versions of both houses differ from each other. As entities that must produce a single output being one of its primary duties as the legislative branch of the Philippine government, both houses will sit down with each other in a bicameral Conference Committee meeting.
The Conference Committee shall be composed of Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, who will “settle, reconcile or thresh out differences on any provision of the bill.”
Aside from reconciling the differences in each version of the bills, the members of the committee may also introduce new, but relevant, provisions in the bill.
Thereafter, a Conference Committee Report is prepared for the signature of the Chairman and the members of the committee. This report shows the changes made in the bill and explaining the action of each side of the members of both houses. What follows is the submission of the report to both houses for approval.
However, it's important to remember that there are bills wherein the Senate will just adopt the version of the House of Representatives, and vice-versa, so the need for a Conference Committee is no longer necessary.
8. Transmittal of the Bill to the President of the Philippines
The approved bill, signed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate and certified by the Secretary General of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate, is transmitted to the Office of the President. The President has three options on what to do with the bill:
- Sign and pass the bill: The bill is assigned with a Republic Act number and becomes a law.
- Veto the bill: By refusing to sign, the bill is sent back to the House of Representatives, along with the reasons for the veto. If both houses of Congress decide that the bill or any of its vetoed provisions should still become a law, they will separately hold a vote. If two-thirds (2/3) of the members of both houses voted for support of the bill, the President’s veto is overridden. Therefore, the bill becomes a law.
- Pocket veto the bill:The President may do nothing with the bill. However, even with the inaction of the chief executive, the bill automatically becomes a law after thirty days (while Congress is still in session).
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. Then, the concerned agencies of the executive branch of government will finally work on the Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) of the law.
Lawmaking Is a Participatory Process
As a citizen of this country, it is important that you are aware of the process that takes place in the creation of laws that affect your daily life and the future generation of Filipinos.
This way, when you feel that a bill will not be beneficial for the country, you know how and when to step up and talk with your representatives or senators about your concern and convince them not to support its passage.
After all, lawmaking is a participatory process and the power of the government emanates from the people.