A SHIFT to a federal system of government, the search for peace and the war on illegal drugs top the list of Senate priorities in consonance with the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte, incoming Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Sunday.
Pimentel said federalism would give greater autonomy to the regions, especially in conflict areas in Muslim Mindanao.
He added that the Senate is ready to offer legislative support to the search for peace with Muslim and communist rebels.
The war on illegal drugs, which the administration has pursued relentlessly in recent weeks, will be strengthened by a bill that would bring back the death penalty for those who commit heinous crimes such as drug trafficking.
“This is not only a deterrent but in the words of President Duterte, retribution for the crimes done against the people,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel also vowed to support the empowerment of local government units through legislation, such as his “Bigger Pie, Bigger Slice” bill that would give LGUs a bigger share of national taxes.
Other priority measures include an end to labor contractualization, changes to the bank secrecy law; modernization of procurement during calamities; creation of a committee for the prevention of torture; increased penalties for reckless imprudence and negligence in the Revised Penal Code; and strict enforcement and compliance with the national building code.
Returning Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri has filed a bill calling for the election of 86 independent delegates to a Constitutional Convention alongside the Oct. 10 barangay polls.
He said this is the answer to the growing public clamor for constitutional reform—a clamor reinforced by Duterte, who ran on a federalism platform.
“There shall be an election of delegates to a Con-Con simultaneous with the holding of the October 2016 barangay elections,” Zubiri said.
“We are proposing to constitute a Con-Con of exactly 100 delegates—one delegate from every province, or a total of 81 from all provinces, five delegates from the National Capital Region, plus 14 delegates to be appointed by the President,” Zubiri said.
The Con-Con is expected to complete the draft of a proposed new Constitution within 36 months. Thereafter, the draft shall be submitted to the people for ratification in a plebiscite within 90 days.
Retaining his post as chairperson of the Senate ways and means committee as the 17th Congress convenes today, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara is focusing on bills to ease the burden of Filipino taxpayers.
Aside from income tax reform, Angara prioritizes the passage of bills that will promote taxpayer rights, and create an office that will help address the difficulties faced by Filipinos in paying taxes.
“In my first three years as chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, we’ve received a lot of complaints on how difficult and cumbersome it is to register, file and pay taxes in our country. The government should first seek to help our taxpayers comply with our regulations rather than penalize them in the first instance,” Angara said.
To help taxpayers especially the self-employed and professionals comply, he has filed a bill that seeks to establish a Taxpayer Assistance Service within the Bureau of Internal Revenue, composed of knowledgeable, competent and professional employees, to answer queries and guide taxpayers on how to efficiently and effectively deal with their tax-related problems and concerns.
The Taxpayer Assistance Service bill is among Angara’s top priority measures, which also include bills that would lower individual income tax rates, and update and index the tax brackets to inflation.
He has also filed a bill that will put in place a charter on taxpayer rights, and create a National Taxpayer Advocate Office that will promote their rights and protect them against harassment and corrupt practices of some officers and employees of the BIR and the Bureau of Customs.
“There is a need to safeguard the rights of taxpayers who are entrusting a significant share of their hard-earned money to the hands of the government. In return, it is our hope that all taxpayers will be more truthful and timely in the filing and payment of tax dues,” he said.
Senator Nancy Binay, on the other hand, filed a bill exempting employees earning P30,000 and below from paying income taxes.
Senator JV Ejercito has vowed to pursue passage of bills that would develop the country’s neglected sectors of transportation, agriculture, and basic social services.
Sen. Grace Poe is determined to work for the approval of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and other key measures that will unleash the power of the citizenry in sustaining inclusive economic development.
She said the FOI advocates a clean government by institutionalizing transparency and accountability in all transactions and operations of the bureaucracy.
Under the measure, citizens will have the right to request and be granted access to government records or information, subject to reasonable exceptions. Greater access to information will empower citizens to participate in government matters and hold public officials accountable.
“A strong FOI is paramount to stamp out corruption,” Poe said.
Senator Ralph Recto, meanwhile, has filed a bill to extend the validity of Philippine passports from five years to 10, in line with President Duterte’s thrust to cut red tape.
“This is a commonsensical anti-red tape measure which should have been done a long time ago,” Recto said.
In the House, incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has similar priorities—Charter change, the reimposition of the death penalty, and emergency powers to sort out the traffic mess in Metro Manila.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told The Standard that the new Congress will focus on passing these vital pieces of legislation that will promote the advocacies of President Duterte, including the campaign against illegal drugs.
At the same time, Fariñas expressed belief that Malacañang will convene soonest the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) for better coordination.
Fariñas added that the holding of regular Ledac meetings “will forestall any veto by the President of any bill passed by the Congress.”
Topping the list of priority bills is House Concurrent Resolution 1 which calls for the convening of a constitutional convention to change the system of government from the unitary presidential bicameral form of government to a federal presidential bicameral form.
President Duterte is pushing for Charter change to pave the way for a federal form of government with a unicameral legislature.
In his resolution co-authored by Fariñas, Alvarez, a representative of Davao del Norte and secretary general of Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), stressed the need for Congress to review provisions in the 1897 Constitution through a constitutional convention to make the fundamental laws of the land “attuned and responsive to present-day realities.”
“[A federal form of government] “will promote political security in Mindanao and thus achieve a lasting peace necessary for the continuous growth of the island and the country,” Alvarez said, adding that a federal form will also “hasten the country’s political, economic, social and cultural development.”
Alvarez also said the House will be in close coordination with the Senate to work on the parameters of emergency powers to be granted to President Duterte to address the traffic woes in Metro Manila.
“Everyone of us knows Metro Manila is traffic hell,” Alvarez said earlier.
He also said the Duterte administration wants to include Metro Cebu in the areas where a traffic crisis has to be addressed through extra powers by the President.
The P3.3-trillion national budget for 2017, which is expected to be submitted by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Aug. 15, will be also be a priority of the 17th Congress.
“The Duterte administration has a strong anti-corruption program. Woe to the lawmaker who will propose a project with the end-in-view of making money out of it in the manner it was done in the past through under-the-table commissions from implementors,” Alvarez warned.
He reiterated that Congress will prioritize the passage of a measure amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act to return to 12 from 15 years old the minimum age of criminal liability.
Known for his hardline stance on pressing issues, Duterte is set out his priorities in his first State-of-the-Nation Address.
The wish list includes four main priorities: Charter change, and end to the drug menace, emergency powers to deal with the worsening traffic in Metro Manila and plans to revitalize the economy.
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