House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez batted for the passage of amendments to existing marriage laws among other bills in his opening remarks at the Opening of the 2nd Regular Session of the 17th Congress. “Admittedly, there is a sad reality about some marriages. We do not always get it right the first time around. Unfortunately, the present system practically coerces married persons to remain with each other even if the relationship is beyond repair and has caused, and continues to cause, harm to the well-being of the husband, the wife and, worse, the children involved. We have to change this. “

Alvarez said there will be bills allowing for the dissolution of marriages and civil unions, giving equal rights to legitimate and illegitimate children. Over the Summer, Alvarez drew attention for publicly admitting his separation from his wife, and that he now has another partner.

in a press conference after the session, Alvarez says that under his proposal for a quick dissolution of marriages, marriages maybe dissolved in a matter of days—a stark contrast to the lengthy process of annullment that spans months or years. “Hindi naman siguro buwan, araw lang. Kasi isang hearing lang yan eh. O, ang itatanong lang naman yung–kung talaga bang kusang loob kayong pumunta dito sa kasunduang ito. O tapos titingnan nung judge kung okay yung–yung ibang agreements halimbawa iyong hatian ng property … yung mga children – tapos na.”

ALvarez says his proposal will make the process simpler and painless.”if they agree to dissolve their marriage  kailangan respetuhin yun  at ang korte ay titiytakin lang na walang coercion… at saka maayos yung sa mga children yung kung sino yung may custody at division ng property ay andodoon na rin kung ayaw naman ng isang party yung kabilang party  pwede magfile ng petition… based on unhappiness”

Alvarez says this is different from divorce. Alvarez recalled that in a recent trip to Japan, he was informed of the support of OFWs for his proposal. “Marami daw ang nagtitiis doon na alam mo naman iba’t ibang kundisyon kasi eh, alam naman natin lahat na yung mga nandoon ay talagang nag sakripisyo para doon sa i-suporta sa kanilang pamilya but sad to say, maraming pangyayari na habang hindi naman spouse dito ay nagkakaroon naman ng ibang relasyon. So I think that is really unfair also to the spouse. “

Alvarez stresses his proposal will make marriages stronger. “Alam mo, ganito ah. Ang kagandahan nyang batas ng civil union, ah yung dissolution of marriage ay ganito. Itong batas na to double bladed ito ha. Itong batas na to kapag nag pakasal ang dalawang party ay mag-i-enganyo ito na kailangan pasayahin nila yung kabilang party. Both parties kailangan masaya sa marriage. So you have to in favor na sumaya yung partner mo kasi ang karamihan na nangyayari ay yung isang party pinapasaya yung isang party, pero yung kabilang party naman parang in-different dun sa marriage kung ano-ano ang ginagawa. Kawawa naman yung kabilang party na hindi na sya masaya yung isa na lang yung masaya tuloy pa rin yung marriage. So pagka nandito itong batas na ito I think this will make the marriage stronger. Because both parties will now see to it the other partner is active. “

Meanwhile, Alvarez said, Civil unions will have civil union certrificates as opposed to marriage certificates.

Beyond these, there will be bills reorganizing PAGCOR, merging LTO and LTFRB, the  creation of single regulatory agencies for railways and airports,  requiring casinos, mining companies and public transport comoanies to get congressional franchises, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic law and  charter change to shift to a federal form of government.

Opposition lawmaker, Ifugao Rep Teddy Baguilat expressed his reservations. “Bold, clear and progressive on gender rights issues. I hope he follows through with clear directives to his leaders to push the bills he mentioned. I’m adversarial though of giving Congress the mandate to give legislative franchises to mining operations and casinos.  It will be a conflict of interest for many legislators who are connected to business interests in mining and gambling. I hope we can use the power of the quorum and on-time sessions to have exhaustive and intelligent discussion on these gender rights bills and proposals for expanding legislative franchises”

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said, “Legislative agenda of the Speaker reeks of protecting vested interests and consolidating power over grant of franchises to Congress. He should put priority to the anti-discrimination bill as pushed by the LGBT community rather than same sex marriage as the latter gained near unanimous support in the first regular session. Overall the legislative priorities leave out the poor and marginalized with token mention of social legislation.”

Caloocan Cong. Edgar Erice, who owns a mining company, said, “The issue of mining permits and environment must be left to the able hands of experts in the field of mining and environment, professionals educated and well experienced civil servants. Congress deeping its hands on supposed to be technical and financial documents would be a big mess. What congress must do is to study and amend the mining law. We should seperate the mining with the DENR because their mandate are diametrically opposed to each other. Putting congress in charge of the mining franchises will aggravate this troubled industry. If we dissect the problem of mining most of them will end up at the doorstep of local politics.”

Addressing the plenary from the Chair, the Speaker  also paid tribute to the achievements of the First Regular Session “ For our first session, we passed – on third reading – two hundred and ten (210) legislative measures. Given that we had ninety-seven (97) session days, that’s an average of two (2) bills on third reading for every session day. Our concrete efforts to provide our people with better chances at life is undeniable. “

Alvarez stressed that their efforts in the leadership was in tandem with the leadership of the Senate. “ The House and the Senate chose fourteen (14) measures from the Common Legislative Agenda for passage on third reading before session ended. On the part of the House of Representatives, we delivered eleven (11) of the fourteen (14) bills. The remaining three (3) bills are making substantial progress through the legislative process here in our chamber. “

Among them: amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act to cover casino transactions; making  tertiary education more accessible, increased interconnectedness of our people through free internet in public places, updated the backwardness of the fines applicable in the Revised Penal Code to be more in keeping with today’s realities, and strengthened emergency health care services especially for indigent patients; the validity of a driver’s license is five (5) years and, should a driver comply with reasonable conditions, it can even be as long as ten (10) years. The same is true for the validity of passports. It can be valid for as long as a decade or ten (10) years.

Alvarez said during the press conference that he hoped that the BBL will be approved before yearend. as for the shift to  federali form of government, that may happen next year.

The proposed 2018 budget maybe approved by the lower house by October, while a possible supplemental budget for the recovery of Marawi City is still not yet final.

The Speech was followed by the roll call of members. 264 congressmen were present.

Senior Citizens Party List finally got represented in the Lower House, as Francisco Datol and Milagros Aquino Magsaysay took their oaths during the session. an internal squabble in the party list prevented them from taking their seats till now.

The plenary then considered and adopted the following resolutions: informing the senate and the President  that the House has a quorum and that the House has entered upon the exercise of its functions; providing for a joint session for the State of the Nation Address; creating a joint committee of the Senate and the House to inform the President that the Congress is now ready to hear his state of the nation address and the appointment of the members of the committee who will inform the President that Congress is ready to listen to his speech.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez hit back at critics of martial law in Mindanao who criticized Congress as an echo chamber of the President for approving the extension till year end.

“Pumunta tayo sa Mindanao, mag survey tayo. Tingnan natin kung ano yung gusto ng karamihan. Buong Mindanao. I challenge everyone to conduct a survey sa buong Mindanao. Alam mo kaming representative, ako sa district ko I can assure you na pinakamababa dyan is 90%.

Alvarez also feels allegations of human rights abuses under martial law should be directed to the Commission on Human Rights. “ alam mo  maraming allegation na human rights abuses pero saan ifile nila s CHR bakit sa amin?”

Both Houses of Congress approved the extension of martial law till the year end in a vote of 261-18.