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Consensus process can help avoid vetoes

President Aquino vetoed Senate Bill 2720 and House Bill 6411, providing for an increase in the salaries of government nurses, along with Senate Bill 2581 and House Bill 3674 seeking the condonation of unpaid income taxes of local water districts.

The presidential veto on the nurses’ pay increase was criticized by many who had hoped that with better pay, many Filipino nurses need not seek employment abroad. Partylist congressmen said the veto showed the President is “consistently anti-worker.” The President, however, said he vetoed the bill because it would create a wage distortion among health professionals in government, including optometrists, dentists, and doctors.

It may be recalled that when President Aquino vetoed the P2,000 increase in the pensions of Social Security System retirees, he was similarly criticized as having no sympathy for poor retired workers who cannot meet their medical needs with their meager SSS pensions. There was a move to overturn the veto on the last day of Congress but House leaders rejected a call for individual voting, saying it was an exercise in futility anyway, since the Senate had already adjourned sine die.

Situations like this, where Congress after lengthy deliberations approves a bill, only to have it vetoed by the President, could be avoided if there had been closer coordination between the Executive and the Legislative departments.

During the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, there was a body called the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) which met regularly to discuss programs and policies to meet the goals of the national economy. With the president as chairman, it included the Senate president and three other senators, the House speaker and three other congressmen, seven cabinet members, and representatives each of local government units, the youth sector, and the private sector.

With all key legislation going through such a body as LEDAC, a meeting of minds could be achieved long before formal approval of a bill by Congress. A presidential veto would be out of the question, as the president is part of the process of drawing up programs and projects that are made into law.

After President Aquino vetoed the nursing bill, the Philippine Nurses Association and the Filipino Nurses United called on incoming President Duterte to take a fresh look at the bill. They said they hope Duterte will also raise the nurses’ salaries as he plans to do with policemen’s salaries.

The incoming administration might also revive the LEDAC or a similar system of consensus building that will help governance in general and avoid presidential vetoes in particular.