CONGRESS on Monday resumes session amid the continued lockdown in Metro Manila, with House and Senate leaders saying they will prioritize measures to address the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said among the measures to be taken up is the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), which would lower corporate income tax to 20% from the current 30% and streamline incentives.
“Maaaring pag-usapan agad, ‘yung mahahalagang probisyon sa CITIRA, ‘yung hindi naman makakaapekto sa mga tao pero makakatulong sa executive department. Siguradong mapag-uusapan (We can discuss this immediately, the important provisions of CITIRA, the ones that won’t affect people but will help the executive department. We will definitely discuss that),” Mr. Sotto said in an interview with DZBB on Sunday.
The Senators will hold a caucus ahead of the 3 p.m. session to finalize the legislative agenda, which Senator Ralph G. Recto confirmed will focus on measures addressing the COVID-19 impact. The Senate will also amend its rules to allow the senators to convene via teleconference to avoid risk of contracting COVID-19.
Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairperson of the Ways and Means committee, earlier said she is looking at amending the incentives under the CITIRA bill to benefit industries deemed essential during the coronavirus crisis. She cited job-generating industries or those engaged in providing medical suuplies and equipment.
At the House of Representatives, House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said they will also fast-track priority measures such as the proposed Philippine Economic Recovery Act (PERA) that will help the economy bounce back from the crisis.
“Kailangan talaga ipa-fast-track natin itong priority measures, isa po diyan ang sinasabi nating economic stimulus package or Philippine Economic Recovery Act from the economic stimulus cluster. Isa pang measure diyan sa social amelioration cluster iyong COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020, which shall fund a nationwide extensive job creation program, particularly infrastructure projects,” he told radio DZRH on Sunday.
Mr. Romualdez said extending the life or validity of the 2020 national budget might also be considered, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant delays in implementation of government projects and programs.
He said they will also tackle House Bill 6623 or the proposed New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020, which will establish policies and regulations for the so-called “new normal” amid the pandemic.
Like the Senate, the House will also conduct the plenary session and committee hearings using teleconferencing apps and social media platforms.
Quirino Representative and House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries Chair Junie E. Cua said that they will continue deliberations on the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) on Monday.
“‘Pag nagbukas, we will still continue taking it up, fine-tuning it and hopefully we will still be within the timeline of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force),” he told BusinessWorld in a phone interview on Wednesday.
As noted in the recent Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) by the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, the AMLA and its implementation require major improvements so the Philippines could avoid being graylisted by the FATF.
Mr. Cua said that he “was hoping” that the committee will be able to submit the bill for plenary debate once Congress resumes but was unable to do so due to COVID-19.
He added that the FATF is “motu proprio or unilaterally” working on an extension on the 12-month observation period set by the APG.
“I was informed also that the FATF, motu proprio or unilaterally is working on an extension on the period given to us to pass and test the implementation of the amended AMLA law. The observation period started last October and we were given a very tight timeline to pass the bill and a period of six months to implement the law. But with this COVID-19, it is impossible. No nation would be able to do that,” he said.
In addition, Mr. Sotto also said he will be pushing for measures allowing President Rodrigo R. Duterte to delay the opening of the academic year as necessary in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Nag-file na ako ng bill last week pa, ang proposal ko, September or to any month the President so decides, in case of national emergencies,” he said.
The Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, meanwhile, will tackle issues surrounding the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), particularly criminal concerns, tax evasion, and employment of foreign nationals.
“With the layoffs that have happened as a result of of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to open sectors and industries that provide essential needs and services, and that will generate jobs for our people so they can work and provide for their families,” Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva said in a phone message, Sunday.
University of the Philippines (UP) political science professor Maria Ela L. Atienza said that the pandemic has “exposed the problems of the priorities of government for the last few years.”
“Some legislators are now acknowledging the lack of sufficient budget and support for the health sector, including the salaries and benefits for health workers, as well as the research and development agencies and institutions nationwide. Now is the time for Congress to strengthen policies and budgets for the public health system, research and development institutions, and universities,” she told BusinessWorld in an e-mailed reply to questions on Sunday.
“The lockdown has also shown that food security is important; therefore, policies strengthening agriculture must be put in place. There is a need also to make the economy inclusive, with more labor rights and protection. More inclusive and accessible public services as well as more efficient social welfare policies must also be pursued,” she added.
Ms. Atienza said that priority bills of the administration have also been compromised due to the pandemic, including the shift to federalism, “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure projects, and bills on peace and order.
“Since the 2022 elections are also fast approaching, many legislators who have so far identified themselves as part of the super majority supportive of President Duterte might also start focusing on their own electoral chances and vote on the basis of what they think are popular to the voting public and not necessarily the priority bills of the administration. Perhaps, new coalitions might emerge among possible presidential candidates,” she said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido