Cabinet draws up legislative priorities

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By Charmaine A. Tadalan

REFORMS opening up the Philippines to more foreign investments and increasing its competitiveness against Southeast Asian rivals lead the economic cluster’s legislative agenda for the first regular session of the 18th Congress, a Cabinet official said on Wednesday.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said the six government clusters were asked to identify their respective legislative agenda, based on level of priority and urgency, legislative stage and “political acceptance,” among other criteria.

“What we did… meron kaming (we had a) matrix, meron kaming high level of priority, high level of urgency, in advanced legislative stage, high political acceptance, ease of passage, presence of a consensus bill or administration measure,” he said in a media forum in Manila.

“I think that was the basis for us to classify kung sa’n namin aim na maipasa, kung sa (which measures we wanted passed in the) first regular session, second regular session or third.”

The economic cluster is pushing the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA), which will reduce the rate of this levy gradually to 20% by 2029 from 30%, the highest in Southeast Asia, and remove redundant fiscal incentives.

Also among bills targeted for approval in this session, which ends on June 5 next year, were the proposed amendment to Republic Act No. 7042, or the Foreign Investments Act of 1991, to remove restrictions on foreigners from practicing their profession in the Philippines; to the 82-year-old Commonwealth Act No. 146, or the Public Service Act, which will lift foreign ownership limits in utilities; and RA 8762, or the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which will reduce the required minimum paid-up capital for foreign entrants to the country’s retail sector.

Mr. Nograles also cited amendments to RA 1405, Bank Secrecy Law, initially to allow authorities to verify asset declarations of tax amnesty applicants but also as a measure against corruption and crime; the increase in excise tax on alcohol products as well as the proposed “Pondo Para sa Pagbabago” Act and Access to Data Transmission Act.

The participatory governance cluster, meanwhile, moved for passage of the Budget Modernization bill, the fifth round of government salary standardization and the Freedom of Information bill.

Other Cabinet clusters cited amendments to RA 9372, or the Human Security Act of 2007; creation of the Department of Disaster and Resilience and the Department of Water; and establishment of a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund.

The full council meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), which is tasked to harmonize the legislative agenda of the Executive branch and Congress, may be pushed to September in light of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s visit to China in the last week of August.

“We hoped to schedule it dapat this month… August, baka September na lang,” Mr. Nograles said.

LEDAC held its last meeting in September 2017.

The council, as provided by Republic Act No. 7640, is chaired by the President and includes among its members the Vice-President, the Speaker, seven Cabinet members designated by the President, three senators designated by the Senate President, three members of the House designated by the Speaker, as well as a representative each from local government, the youth and the private sectors.

The leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet on Aug. 27 to prepare for the full LEDAC to hammer out a common legislative agenda. That meeting will have as participants Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Finance committee chair Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, on the part of the Senate. The House will be represented by Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano (Taguig City-1st district), Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte (Camarines Sur 2nd district), Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez (Leyte 1st district), Minority Leader Bienvenido M. Abante Jr. (Manila 6th district), Appropriations committee chairman Isidro T. Ungab (Davao City 3rd district) and Ways and Means chair Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda (Albay 2nd district).

Mr. Salceda on Aug. 5 said the House, for its part, will prioritize the proposed increase in excise tax on alcohol products, Public Service Act amendments, establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, proposed CITIRA, and establishment of Malasakit Centers on top of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

The Senate has yet to set a legislative agenda, but Mr. Sotto on July 22 had said among the chamber’s priorities were also amendments to the Human Security Act, Public Service Act and Foreign Investments Act of 1991.