As provided by the 1987 Constitution, the country’s legislature shall have the Senate and the House of Representatives. This makes it a bicameral legislative body. Both chambers are in-charge of creating laws and performing other significant functions such as maintaining the principle of checks and balances with its co-equal branches of government—the executive and the judiciary, respectively.
As two separate chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives determine their own rules of proceedings as well as the imposition of punishment or sanction to their own members.
Despite this, they are mandated to consult and agree with each other. For instance, it is prohibited in the Constitution for either of them to adjourn sessions for more than three (3) days nor to hold session other than its plenary halls without the consent of the other.
In the passage of bills, both chambers are expected to produce a single output and this case, a bill. But what happens when the Senate and the House of Representatives approve a bill on the Third and Final Reading that has disagreeing provisions?
This is where the bicameral conference committee comes in.
Bicameral conference committee
A bicameral conference committee (often shortened as "bicam" by the people in legislation) is a joint panel composed of Representatives and Senators who are appointed by their respective chambers to convene in order to resolve disagreements on a particular measure such as, for example, the general appropriations bill or the national budget as it is commonly known. This panel is just temporary and is just created for the purpose. Members are often called conferees.
When it is needed
Although they might be perceived as separate entities, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are actually just under one single structure—the Congress of the Philippines. Therefore, both houses shall endeavor to produce a single and unvarying output. By principle, the President cannot approve a law for implementation if it is not yet finalized by Congress.
A bill is only considered final when it has the signature the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as the Secretary of the Senate and Secretary-General of the House of Representatives.
Roles of the conferees
According to Congress, members from each chamber who constitute the committee are expected to “settle, reconcile or thresh out difference or disagreements on any provision of the bill.” In addition, the conferees may also introduce new provisions that are relevant to the subject matter.
The main output of the panel in this case is the Conference Committee Report which shall be signed by all the conferees and the chairman of the committee.
Conference committee report
A signed committee report by its members and the chairperson is considered the final version of the subject bill. The report is then submitted back to both chamber for consideration or approval of all members. This time any proposed amendment is no longer allowed to be made by any member. Such action is only permitted during the Period of Amendments after the Period of Sponsorship and Debate and prior to the Second Reading in the plenary.
Once approved, the bill is now ready to be transmitted to the President for his signature.
Historically, bills that are largely debated on such as budget, taxation, creation or abolition of agencies, and other measures that have national and generational significance usually require a reconciliation in a conference committee. However, other proposed measures such as local bills, meaning bills affecting just a locality like renaming a bridge or declaring a special non-working day in a certain town, usually don’t need to be reconciled in a conference committee.
More often than not, either chamber of Congress just adopts the version of each other, whichever is better, when it comes to most local bills.