THE GOVERNMENT’s proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 and a bill that will slash rice retail prices will be in the homestretch for approval by Congress, which resumes session today, according to lawmakers in separate interviews late last week.
The 17th Congress next takes a break on Dec. 15-Jan. 13 and returns to work on Jan. 14-Feb. 8 before adjourning for the May elections. It then resumes session for the last time on May 20-June 7.
Deputy Speaker Prospero A. Pichay, Jr. said in a telephone interview on Saturday that the 2019 “budget” will be first among priorities, adding: “By next week, we’ll pass it on third reading.”
The chamber had passed on second reading House Bill (HB) No. 8169, or the proposed national budget for 2019, before Congress adjourned on Oct. 13.
House Ways and Means Committee chairperson Estrellita B. Suansing of Nueva Ecija’s 1st district said next in her sights are the proposed tax amnesty and mining tax reform measures that should be approved by yearend.
She said much remains to be done with the tax amnesty proposal, however, saying by phone: “ibabalik ko sya sa (I will return the bill to a) technical working group” for refinement.
“Target na matapos siya sa third and final itong session na ‘to, so meaning up to December (The target is to approve the bill on third and final reading by Dec. 14),” she said, adding that the same deadline will be observed for HB 8400, which gives government a bigger share in mining revenues, which the chamber approved on second reading last month.
The proposed 2019 national budget also tops priorities in the Senate, with Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III saying via text that his chamber may “have to work overtime” to assure December approval if the House does not forward the measure soon.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said the Senate will also approve the rice tariffication bill — which the House approved in August — on final reading by next week. The bill replaces the current rice import quota system with one that frees up importation by the private sector in a bid to help ease overall inflation.
It is a key measure by the current administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to tame surging inflation that steadied at a nine-year-high 6.7% in October. The measure is expected to slash rice retail prices by P7 per kilogram and inflation by 0.7 percentage point.
“The rice tariffication (bill) is in the period of amendment. Hopefully by next or the next two weeks, we will approve the rice tariffication on third reading since it is a certified measure,” Mr. Zubiri told reporters at a media forum on Thursday last week.
He also committed to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the universal healthcare bill once both chambers have will have reconciled their differences.
He also cited the Security of Tenure bill, which further restricts use of contractual modes of employment, and proposed Public Service Act amendments that will open up telecommunications to more foreign competition as Senate priorities.
Last week, Mr. Sotto enumerated other Senate priority measures as the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act, Medical Scholarship Act, Mindanao Railways Authority, General Tax Amnesty, Universal healthcare, Budget Reform Act, Rightsizing the National Government, Coconut Levy bill, Fair Elections Act amendments, Government Procurement Act amendments, traffic emergency powers and the Salary Standardization Law.
Mr. Zubiri said other priority measures include the Murang Kuryente (cheap electricity) and the Freedom of Information bills. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Camille A. Aguinaldo