REFORM measures that remain pending in Congress during its remaining two weeks of session deserve a second look by the incoming administration, after the pandemic delayed their passage, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said.

“We did not finish the reforms that we wanted to (carry out) primarily because the pandemic hit us and we have to prioritize our time, money, and effort. I would say na ’yung mga naka-pending bilisan (the approval of pending measures be accelerated). Kung hindi kaya ipasa nitong Congress (If this Congress cannot pass it) in their last two weeks, the next Congress can take a look at it with urgency,” Mr. Chua said during an appearance at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay.

He said the pending tax reform programs include package three, which deals with property valuation reform and package four, which seeks to restructure the taxation of passive income. Mr. Chua said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Program (RCEP) treaty, currently pending in the Senate, is expected to expand opportunities for the economy.

“We have other pending measures. For instance, NEDA (the National Economic and Development Authority) is pushing for reforms in the water sector to secure our water supply and provide better sanitation for everyone,” Mr. Chua said.

Mr. Chua also said a pending livestock, corn, and poultry bill in the Senate will help address increasing commodity prices.

Mr. Chua called attention to the importance of the proposed Natural Land Use Act, which is “mentioned in almost every SONA (State of the Nation Address) but not yet passed.”

“Our land area is 300,000 square kilometers and that will not increase. The population is increasing so we better know how to use it best.”

Once passed, Mr. Chua said the bill will allow for better urban planning and regulate the use of land, mountains, and watersheds.

The National Land Use Act has been in the works since 1994, during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos. The legislation was proposed as Senate Bill No. 1522 during the 17th Congress, when it was billed as a “policy for the rational, holistic, and just allocation, utilization, management and development of our land resources.”

In 2017, it made it through the House as House Bill 5240, with five versions of the bill presented in the Senate, where no public hearings were held.

“We hope we will have a chance to explain to legislators what the benefits really are of this law,” Mr. Chua said.

He said NEDA supports the resumption of face-to-face schooling.

In the proposed 2023 national budget, Mr. Chua said that “education receives the highest budget in accordance with the constitutional provision.”

“The D in NEDA stands for Development. Development includes education. In fact, it’s the foundation of development.”

Mr. Chua said that in most countries, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreaks did not happen in schools, but rather, in situations where minimum health and safety standards are not observed.

“I understand from the Department of Education report that the (face-to-face) pilot was a huge success, which means we can replicate it in all schools,” he added.

“The median age of the Philippine population is 24 years old. Fifty percent are 24 years old and 40% are below 21. In other words, 40% of the population is in school.  That’s a big driver of economic activity.”

Mr. Chua said dormitories and food businesses that operate near schools rely on students for income.

“That’s why our economic growth is still not reaching its original potential,” Mr. Chua said.

He said NEDA is proposing an apprenticeship bill to improve opportunities for graduates. — Keisha B. Ta-asan