The leadership of the House of Representatives has included 12 economic measures in the list of bills to be prioritized for floor and committee deliberations in its effort to help the Duterte administration jumpstart the economy and cushion the impact of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic on the livelihood of ordinary Filipinos.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said five of the 12 economic measures remained under period of interpellations in plenary while seven are in various stages of deliberation in the committee level.
“I have explicit instructions from Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. We have to prioritize these 12 bills that were endorsed by Secretary Sonny Dominguez as part of the legislative priorities of the Department of Finance,” Romualdez said.
“These legislative imperatives, according to Secretary Dominguez, are needed to help ensure that the economy recovers quickly from the corona-induced crisis in a strong, sustainable, and resilient manner,” Romualdez added.
The Majority Leader noted that the 12 economic measures were what remained of a total 22 bills that were endorsed as priority measures by the country’s economic managers to the 18th Congress. The 10 other measures had already passed the House of Representatives, but remained pending in the Senate.
The five measures still under plenary deliberation are House Bill 7749 or the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), HB 7425 or the Digital Transactions Value Added Tax, HB 7406 or Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Program, HB 6135 or Fiscal Mining Regime, and HB 7425 or Internet Transactions Act/E-Commerce Law).
Pending under committee deliberations are the Military and Uniformed Personnel (MUP) Services Separation, Retirement, and Pension Bill; Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Bill; Coconut Farmers Trust Fund Bill; Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission Bill; Warehouse Receipts Bill; National Disease Prevention and Management Authority Bill; and the National Land Use Bill.
“I have no doubt that the House of Representatives will be able to pass all these measures before the onset of the election fever next year. We are committed in helping our economic managers set in place the bold reforms that the Duterte administration has started to keep the economy strong and resilient,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez thanked his colleagues for working closely with the House leadership in passing the priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte, particularly those geared to get the economy back on its positive growth trajectory.
“I give full credit to the work ethic of our colleagues in the 18th Congress. They had been relentless in working, from committee to plenary deliberations, even at the height of the coronavirus scare in the first quarter of the year,” he added.
The 10 economic measures that already passed the House were the HB 4157 or Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Bill; HB 6816 or Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Bill; HB 6654 Converting the Insurance Commission into a Collegial Body; HB 6768 or the Financial Consumer Protection Bill; HB 6136 or the Motor Vehicles User Tax; HB 6134 or Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing Systems Act; HB 300 or Foreign Investment Act Amendments; HB 78 or Public Service Act Amendments; HB 59 or Retail Trade Liberalization; and HB 6927 or E-Government Act.
“Once these measures were approved by the Senate and enacted into laws, we expect the Philippines to keep its status as one of the emerging economies in the world in terms of financial strength and economic resilience,” Romualdez said.
In the Senate, Sen. Juan Angara, chair of the Senate Finance committee, Tuesday sponsored the committee report on the 2021 national budget which final version will be sent mid-December to Duterte for his review and signing.
Plenary debates on the P4.5-billion budget will commence on November 11, starting with the general principles, then the individual budgets of the various departments/agencies.
“The target is to have the measure approved on third reading by November 24. The bicameral conference will proceed immediately thereafter and hopefully, by December 7, a consolidated report will already be available for signing,” related Angara.
He said the government will have P8 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines once they become available. Another P10 billion in standby funds will also be provided to augment this amount if necessary.
Although invisible to the naked eye, he stressed that the damage inflicted by COVID-19 had wrought are there for everyone to see. “fhey’re not in the fine print of the bureacrat’s report, of graph of his PowerPoint. they are in shuttered factories, empty hotels and closed restaurants,” he said.
“In the exodus of jobless OFWs, of furlough breadwinners, in the outstretched arms of jeepney drivers getting alms not fares,” he added.
He added the pandemic could be felt in the deserted public schools with 4 million fewer learners and in jampacked government hospitals.
Earlier, Angara related that among the priorities of the 2021 national budget are the strengthening of our health system, including the capabilities of our hospitals especially those in the provinces; addressing the demands of the educational system under the new normal, particularly the need to improve internet access and ensuring the government’s ability to respond to calamities by increasing the NDRRMF or calamity funds.
He also said the funding for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) will be retained.
“This has been declared as a priority program of the executive branch as part of the efforts to address the insurgencies,” said Angara
“The proposals of some senators to increase the calamity fund are well taken and will be addressed,”. Also said Angara.
From P16 billion this year, he noted the Senate was looking at increasing this by another P5 billion at least. But the source of funds will have to be from other items of the budget and not the NTF-Elcac.
Lump sum items in the budget are generally frowned upon as contrary to good budgeting practices.
He said they would go over the itemization of the lump sum items initially found in the proposed budget of the DPWH.
The allowance for teaching supplies will be increased from the present P3,500 to P5,000 a year.
This is consistent with the proposed law institutionalizing the chalk allowance that the Senate is expected to approve on third reading today.
There are no pork barrel funds under the proposed budget.
Congress is cognizant of the ruling on the PDAF, which declared unconstitutional post-enactment interventions by the legislature on the national budget.