A congressional leader on Wednesday expressed confidence the House of Representatives will fast-track the approval of six pending bills mentioned by President Rodrigo Duterte as priority measures during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.
These bills, all principally authored by Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, are the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, the provision for Legal Assistance for Police, Military, and other Uniformed Personnel; the establishment of the Philippine Center for Disease Control, the modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection, setting up Evacuation Centers in all local government units, and the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
“With the President’s clear mandate for Congress to approve these priority measures during his last year in office, I am confident that my colleagues in both the House and Senate will expedite their approval,” Vargas said.
“These bills address urgent national concerns, and their approval will be a fitting legacy of the President’s and Congress’ unflinching desire to improve the welfare of our people,” he added.
These bills were filed from 2018 to 2020 and are either pending at Committee level or have been approved by the House and transmitted to the Senate, Vargas noted.
Meanwhile, a legislator welcomed President Duterte’s renewed push in his final SONA for an accelerated “Build, Build, Build” program in the homestretch of his term.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte hoped this would lead to the faster implementation or revival especially of flagship projects outside Metro Manila.
He said that Camarines Sur folk, for instance, have expressed the hope that the President’s SONA order to his economic managers to speed up the completion of flagship projects would clear the way to the implementation of at least two “Build, Build, Build” expressways.
Their funding, though included in the House-approved National Expenditure Program (NEP), were surprisingly deleted from the then-proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that was subsequently submitted by the bicameral Congress for Malacañang’s approval.
The intended funds for these two flagship projects had “vanished” from public works appropriations under Republic Act (RA) No. 11518 or the 2021 GAA, he said.
This was despite both being already approved by the top-level National Economic and Development Authority-Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC)—the Camarines Sur Expressway Project and the Pasacao-Balatan Tourism Coastal Highway.
Vargas said he is confident Congress will soon enact the FOI Bill, or House Bill 5776, titled “An Act Enabling the People’s Constitutional Right of Access to Information.” The bill was filed in 2019.
The Quezon City lawmaker said a law is needed to ensure that the principles of transparency and the public’s access to information embodied in Executive Order 2 signed by President Duterte in July 2016 “will not be reversed by succeeding administrations.”
“The EO in itself is a victory for FOI advocates and a testament to the President’s adherence to the principles of transparency and accountability in government. An FOI Law will ensure that these principles are adhered to and observed by succeeding administrations,” he said.
Among other provisions, the Vargas FOI Bill calls for the establishment of an independent Freedom of Information Commission that will act as a gatekeeper for government information.
The Commission will handle all requests for access to government information, provide a mechanism for appeals, and give technical guidance to government agencies in implementing FOI.
The infrastructure funds for CamSur that were taken off the 2021 GAA total P1.15 billion if one were to include a third major road project in CamSur—the CamSur-Albay Diversion Road—whose outlay had similarly disappeared from the 2021 national budget.
Villafuerte appealed to the economic managers to heed the President’s SONA directive for them to accelerate infrastructure development by either augmenting or even increasing national budget funds for these CamSur projects or including them on the list of projects for Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding.
“We are hoping that President Duterte’s SONA order for his economic managers to fast-track the implementation of ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects due for completion before his term ends in June 2022 would lead to the implementation of these projects to decongest traffic in major arteries across Bicol and cut travel time between the region’s provinces,” Villafuerte said.
“They could augment or even increase GAA funds to bankroll these CamSur projects or include them on the list of ODA-financed ventures.”
He stressed that the implementation of these major road networks, which would generate a lot of jobs and supercharge growth in CamSur and the rest of Bicol, has acquired urgency.
This was because in his SONA directive, “the President directed the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and NEDA to go “full speed” on flagship projects, “especially those that would disperse economic activity” outside Metro Manila.