THE House of Representatives will prioritize the passage of bills creating three departments when Congress reconvenes on Jan. 20, said House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano.

“I think the three departments dapat bigyan ng (should be given) priority. Department of Water, Department of Disaster Resilience and Disaster Management (and the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers),” Mr. Cayetano told reporters on Wednesday.

The House Speaker said that President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s order for the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East highlights the need for the creation of the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

He added that the formation of the proposed new agency is the long-term solution to problems affecting millions of OFWs abroad.

“Even if we have a hard working Secretary of Foreign Affairs and an equally hard working Secretary of Labor, they have other tasks. Secretary Roy Cimatu may be an expert on the Middle East, but he too has other jobs. So what is important is for the nation to have a full-time secretary whose only job is to attend to the welfare and concern of OFWs,” the House Speaker said. Mr. Cimatu is the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and is also the Special Envoy to the Middle East.

If passed into law, the Department of Water Resources will be primarily responsible for harmonizing the management of water resources in the country.

Meanwhile, the Department of Disaster Resilience will be mandated to oversee the implementation of disaster resilience plans and the development of “strategic and systematic approaches to disaster prevention.”

During his 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Duterte asked Congress to pass the measures creating the three departments.

Currently, the three measures are still pending approval on second reading in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Cayetano also said that the lower chamber will prioritize the passage of revenue measures to fund the Universal Health Care and Free Education Act and to expedite the progress of the “Build, Build, Build” program.

“’Yung (The) taxes, we already have good laws, eh, Universal Health Care. We already have yung Free Education Act, pero paano mo popondohan ito (but how will we fund these)? Then lastly, kung paano mapapabilis ang ‘Build, Build, Build’ (how to make ‘Build, Build, Build go faster),” the House Speaker said.

The House Committee on Ways and Means has endorsed four revenue measures for plenary approval, namely the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) tax regime, the Motor Vehicle Road Users’ Tax, the Mining Fiscal Regime, and the Tax on single-use plastics.

The expected revenue to be generated by each tax bill is P20 billion to P45 billion from POGOs, P16 billion from the road tax, P2 billion from the mining tax, and P4 billion from the tax on single-use plastics. — Genshen L. Espedido