By Charmaine A. Tadalan

THE P4.1-TRILLION proposed national budget for 2020 as well as remaining packages of the comprehensive tax reform program (CTRP) will take up much of lawmakers’ time when they return to work on Nov. 4 and before they take their Dec. 21-Jan. 19 Christmas-New Year break, key legislators said on Sunday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said in a mobile phone message that the Senate will target approving the “budget, alcohol taxes and Malasakit (Center)” starting Nov. 4, while Albay-2nd District Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda in a separate text message said the House of Representatives will continue tackling “aside from alcohol, CITIRA (Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act), PIFITA (Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act), FIA (Foreign Investments Act) Amendment, RTL (Retail Trade Liberalization) Amendment.”

Mr. Salceda, who chairs the House ways and means committee, added that his chamber will also “try” approving within that period the “RPVA (Real Property Valuation and Assessment), PSA (Public Service Act amendment), MVRUT (higher Motor Vehicle Road User’s Tax), [as well as proposals to set up departments of] Water, OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers), DDR (Department of Disaster Resilience)…”

The Senate finance committee, led by Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, will wrap up this week budget deliberations for remaining government agencies. The panel will consolidate the committee report during the current Oct. 5-Nov. 3 break in time for its sponsorship in the plenary when sessions resume.

The House on Sept. 20 approved the proposed 2020 spending plan, under House Bill No. 4228, and transmitted it to the Senate on Oct. 1. Both chambers target submission by Dec. 15 of the proposed 2020 national budget for President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s signature.

Mr. Recto was also referring to Senate Bill No. 1074, or the proposed excise tax hike for alcohol products and electronic cigarettes, which ways and means committee Chairperson Senator Pia S. Cayetano reported for plenary action ahead of the current break. Its counterpart, HB No. 1026, bagged final-reading approval on Aug. 20.

Mr. Salceda said the bicameral conference committee will reconcile both versions before Congress takes another month-long break starting Dec. 21. “Sigurado pa lang alco tax pero ’yung CITIRA baka 3 hearings pa Senate (The measure further increasing the excise tax on alcohol products is sure to be approved soon, but CITIRA will have three more Senate hearings),” he said.

The House has so far approved on final reading the proposed CITIRA, which will reduce the corporate income tax gradually to 20% by 2029 from 30% currently and remove redundant fiscal incentives; and the PIFITA, which will simplify that tax structure for financial investment instruments. Meanwhile, the proposal to centralize real property valuation and assessment awaits plenary approval.

All the said remaining CTRP packages, which were mentioned by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address last July, have yet to hurdle the Senate.

The House also plans to approve measures that will open the Philippines further to foreign direct investments. The list includes proposed amendments to the 82-year-old Commonwealth Act No. 146, or the PSA, which will lift foreign ownership limits in utilities like transport and telecommunications, and Republic Act No. 8762 which will reduce the required minimum paid-up capital for foreign entrants to the country’s retail trade sector.

Proposed amendments to RA 7042, or the Foreign Investments Act of 1991, which will remove restrictions on foreigners from practicing their professions in the Philippines, has hurdled the House but has yet to secure committee approval in the Senate.

These are among the bills prioritized by the Cabinet economic cluster for the first regular session of the 18th Congress that ends on June 5 next year. — with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras