Following the adjournment sine die of the first regular session of the 19th Congress, Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has managed to spearhead the passage of two significant bills within 10 months.
Estrada was referring to the 4,386 veterans; 2,276 wives of pensioners, and 795 minors covered under Republic Act No. 6948 or the Act Standardizing and Upgrading the Benefits for Military Veterans and their Beneficiaries, who stand to benefit from the increased rates of the monthly disability pension benefit under the ratified Senate Bill No. 1480.
Another landmark legislation that saw its passage last March 22 in the recently-concluded regular session was Senate Bill No. 1849, which amends the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) fixed term code and aims to enhance professionalism, ensure policy continuity, and advance modernization initiatives within the military.
“In passing two significant bills, one of which has been already signed into law and the other just waiting to be signed into law by the President, countless lives will be impacted in the days and years to come,” Estrada said in a statement.
“There’s a big gap in what they have been getting in 29 years given to us as added monthly pension, “ said the lawmaker in explaining the 350 to 488% raise in the disability pension of veterans and their beneficiaries.
The bicameral conference committee report on the said measure was ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives last Wednesday, May 31, the last day of Congress’ regular session, and is expected to be signed by the President before the opening of the second regular session on July 24. The last upward adjustment for the veterans’ disability pension was in 1994.
President Marcos has signed RA 11939, the new law that introduced specific fixed terms for key positions in the AFP, with the Chief of Staff having a maximum tour of duty of three years and which can be terminated earlier by the President if deemed necessary.
Similarly, the chiefs of the Philippine Army, the Philippine Air Force, the Philippine Navy, and the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) will serve a maximum duty of two years, also subject to early termination by the President.
This groundbreaking legislation also introduced compulsory retirement ages for AFP personnel, with those in the grade of Second Lieutenant/Ensign to Lieutenant General/Vice Admiral now required to retire at the age of 57, while the mandatory retirement age of those commissioned under Presidential Decree No. 1908 as well as those appointed in the Corps of Officers, will be at the age of 60.
Before the amendment of RA 11709, the attrition rate for one-star generals is 31 times higher which means that those who will be compelled to retire in the next five years will increase to 93, and for two-star generals, the attrition rate will be six times higher, Estrada explained.
The most significant impact, if RA 11709 was not amended by RA 11939, is the unnecessary attrition of 15% of enlisted personnel who are mostly officers from the rank of private to first chief master sergeant.
“Currently, 82% of the AFP or more than 135,000 of our servicemen are comprised of dedicated enlisted personnel and no less than 20,000 of them will be compelled to leave the service in the coming years due to their forced attrition stipulated in RA 11709. Although unintended, this has caused uneasiness and demotivation, and adversely affected the morale of our troops,” Estrada said.
Of the 179 bills so far filed by Estrada since July last year, currently in the legislative mill under his stewardship as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security are the proposed National Defense Act and the Military and Uniformed Personnel Services (MUP) Separation, Retirement, and Pension Act. Both are on the list of measures of the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council (LEDAC).
The Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Labor is likewise in the thick of conducting proceedings on the proposed Caregivers Welfare Act, Enterprise Productivity Act, Reservist Employment Rights, and Apprenticeship Training Act.
Estrada, a concurrent member of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA), has conducted nine hearings as chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and oversaw the approval of the designation of 119 officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), including 38 appointees as ambassadors.
“I am humbled and honored by the significant progress we have made in the First Regular Session. We have worked tirelessly to fulfill our mandate as a public servant and bring about meaningful reforms that will benefit the Filipino people. It is truly gratifying to see our efforts bear fruit,” he said.