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Monday, December 4, 2023

Senate, House leaders express confidence in better legislations

With the country’s economy picking up speed, Speaker Martin G. Romualdez said Thursday that the House of Representatives will work double time next year to ensure that whatever economic gains are achieved would translate to better living conditions for Filipino families.

“We, in the House of Representatives, welcome the good news from our Finance Secretary that the worst is over for the Philippines and better years are expected,” Romualdez said.

The Speaker was referring to the statement released on Wednesday by Department of Finance chief Benjamin Diokno, where he projected faster economic growth for the Philippines in 2023.

“This definitely inspires us to work double-time when we resume session next year, pushing us to legislate more laws needed to further boost the economy and improve the living condition of our people,” Romualdez added.

Meanwhile, 2022 was also “a good start for a productive Senate,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said, while committing that the job in the Upper Chamber will be “onward and upward from here.”

“Having identified our priority legislations and having established the pace of committee and plenary proceedings, we are ready to improve our coordination and we are ready to work harder to address the needs of our people,” said Zubiri.

Despite a looming global recession, Diokno said the Philippines is still expected to have one of the highest growth rates among the six Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member economies next year. “Many institutions and experts have predicted a global recession in 2023, and consequently, downgraded the Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) outlook to less than 6 percent,” Diokno said.

“But an average GDP growth of 6.5% is nothing to be sneezed at: it is still one of the highest, if not the highest, growth rates among ASEAN+6 economies,” he pointed out.

Romualdez extended his gratitude to his fellow legislators in the Lower Chamber for acting swiftly on vital legislative measures, which

Diokno cited among the major reasons for optimism in the country’s strong economic performance.

Last August 1, the House adopted Concurrent Resolution 2, supporting President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s 2023-2028 Medium-Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF).

The House approved its version of the 2023 national budget on September 28 and ratified the bicameral conference committee report on December 5.

Signed by President Marcos last December 16, Romualdez noted it was the only budget in recent memory to have been signed in mid-December.

Amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, Foreign Investments Act, and Public Services Act during the 18th Congress shepherded the passage of their enactment into laws by Romualdez, who served as the House Majority Leader.

Diokno cited nine reasons for his optimistic projections for our economy’s growth in 2023, four of which were the direct result of acts of Congress: the early approval of the 2023 national budget, early adoption of the first-ever MTFF for 2023-2028; a more favorable economic environment that removed barriers to foreign investments; and a strong commitment to expanding the “Build, Build, Build” program with enhanced private sector participation.

Diokno also cited the swift approval of the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, the strong international credit profile of the country, a stable and resilient banking system, adequate buffers against external headwinds; and a young, tech-savvy, mostly

English-speaking labor force, among the factors that bode well for the growth prospects of our economy in 2023.

To help sustain such a growth trajectory, Romualdez vowed to pass the remaining 12 priority measures of President Marcos Jr. when Congress

resumes sessions on January 23, 2023. The priority measures that the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) adopted as its Common Legislative Agenda (CLA) are: 1. The Enactment of an Enabling Law for the Natural Gas Industry;

2. Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA);

3. The Unified System of Separation, Retirement, and Pension;

4. The E-Governance Act and E-Government Act;

5. The National Land Use Act;

6. The National Defense Act;

7. The National Government Rightsizing Program;

8. The Budget Modernization Bill;

9. The Department of Water Resources;

10. Establishing the Negros Island Region;

11. Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers; and

12. The Establishment of Regional Specialty Hospitals.

Before the House adjourned for the Christmas break, Romualdez pointed out that it had fulfilled its commitment to pass pro-people measures, including the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), the P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023, and 20 other priority bills of the Marcos administration, 19 of which were included in the CLA.

Romualdez said the House looks forward to the enactment of the 19 priority bills under the CLA that it has passed on third and final reading.

These include

1. Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act or PIFITA (The fourth package under the Comprehensive Tax Reform

Program or CTRP);

2. Virology Institute of the Philippines;

3. Agrarian Reform Debts Condonation;

4. Philippine Passport Act;

5. Waste-to-Energy Bill;

6. National Disease Prevention Management Authority or Center for Disease Control and Prevention;

7. Medical Reserve Corps (HEART);

8. Internet Transaction Act / E-Commerce Law;

9. Leyte Ecological Industrial Zone;

10. Eastern Visayas Development Authority (EVDA);

11.Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill;

12. Free Legal Assistance for Police and Soldiers;

13. Public–Private Partnership (PPP) Act;

14. Magna Carta of Barangay Health Workers;

15.Real Property Valuation Reform Bill;

16. Apprenticeship Act; and

17. National Citizens Service Training Program (NCSTP).

Two of the 19 CLA measures have been signed into law by the President — Republic Act (RA) No. 11934 or An Act Requiring Registration of

Subscriber Identification Module (SIM), and RA 11935 or An Act Postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections to October 2023.

For 2023, Zubiri said the Senate has already lined up the following as priorities: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interest on Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, and the AFP Amendment on Fixed Term.

It also includes a handful of health bills, namely the Medical Reserve Corps Act, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control Act, and the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines Act. They also expect to tackle the Maharlika Fund Bill soon, not as a priority measure, but as a measure for deep discussion and careful consideration.

Since the start of the 19th Congress in July, Zubiri said they were able to lay down the foundations for an effective and productive Senate.

The Upper Chamber, he noted, was able to support and spearhead our country’s continued efforts to recover from the pandemic, while also looking beyond recovery and into further growth.

Zubiri said this means more jobs, more accessible educational and medical services, better food and utility prices, and genuine peace and security for our people.

“Performance-wise, the work of the Senate is already in action,” he said. Zubiri also related that our telecommunications companies have already begun the process of SIM registration, as part of the implementation of the SIM Registration Act, which was the first law passed under this Congress. With the successful implementation of this law, the Senate leader said, “we will be able to cut down on the use of anonymous SIMs for criminal activities such as scams, identity theft, and eventerrorism.”

According to Zubiri, he is also proud of how they have built productive working relationships “with our partners in the House of Representatives, as well as the Executive.”

He said the remarkably swift passage of the 2023 General Appropriations Act is a testament to this, and “hopefully sets a precedent for the smooth and unproblematic passage of laws in the new year.”

“With better coordination between the executive and the legislative, we will see fewer vetoes, and we will be able to focus our time and resources on measures that will really be of service of the people,”he added.

At the same time, Zubiri said they have continued to uphold the proud independence of the Senate, providing checks and balances through ef forts such as the Senate Oversight Committee for Confidential andIntelligence Funds.

“We have also pursued necessary investigations into pressing issues such as the unauthorized signing of Sugar Order No. 4, the rampant criminality within the POGO industry, and the procurement of overpriced laptops for the Department of Education,” he said.

“Even on our last day of session this year, we looked into the concerning aggression of the China Coast Guard against our own Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea. “

The productivity, he said, has not been confined to the Senate. In the Commission on Appointments, he said they have already confirmed the ad interim appointments of almost all appointees, with only two more cabinet posts remaining unconfirmed.

“I promised the people that this will be a Senate oriented toward national reconstruction, and that remains our goal as we move into the new year,” he said.

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