AFTER APPROVING revenue-generating measures, the House of Representatives will shift its focus to the formation of three new government departments either by “yearend” or by “March,” Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said on Tuesday.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 urged Congress to establish the Department of Water, Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and the Department of Disaster Resilience.

Inuna namin ‘yung revenue bills kasi madaling magpasa ng bills creating new offices — giving more responsibilities and promising more social benefits — pero pa’no mo babayaran? (We first attended to revenue bills because it is easy to approve bills creating new offices — giving more responsibilities and promising more social benefits — but how will you pay for that?),” Mr. Cayetano told reporters at a briefing in Taguig City.

“This Congress did the reverse: ‘yung pambayad muna; kapag naayos ‘yun (we ensured that there is a source of revenues first; when that is done) and we expect it siguro (additional revenues to come in maybe) some before the end of the year, some by March, then, medyo mas maluwag tayo gumastos dun sa ibang (it will be easier for us to spend on the other) reforms.”

Since the opening of session on July 22, the House has passed on final reading four packages of the administration’s comprehensive tax reform program. The list includes measures that will cut the corporate income tax to 20% by 2029 from 30% currently and overhaul fiscal incentives, increase excise tax rates on alcohol products and electronic cigarettes among other vapor products, and simplify the tax structure for financial investment instruments.

The proposal to centralize real property valuation and assessment is currently up for plenary deliberation in the chamber.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, has so far approved the bill further increasing the excise tax on “sin” products and is deliberating the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act.

Mr. Cayetano said in particular that the proposals forming the departments of OFW and water are targeted for approval before sessions adjourn on Dec. 20 for a Dec. 21 to Jan. 19, 2020 Christmas-New Year break.

’Yung OFW bill, we want it done before the end of the year. I would say dapat latest, well, kung kaya this year, ‘yung sa water,” Mr. Cayetano said, adding that he will meet with House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez of Leyte’s 1st district to finalize the timetable for the bills’ approval when sessions resume on Nov. 4.

The OFW department bill seeks to integrate and harmonize functions of five key agencies, namely: Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, and the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs.

Mr. Cayetano also cited the urgency of establishing a government office focused on water supply concerns, noting that “we are all equally guilty” of procrastination since the government moves only when there is a crisis at hand.

The Department of Water bill proposes to rationalize water resource management; while the Department of Disaster Risk bill will establish a single office that will lead coordination, management and implementation of disaster risk reduction.

The disaster risk department bill nearly hurdled the 17th Congress after it was approved by the House on third and final reading but remained at the committee level in the Senate when sessions ended early in June.

All bills filed in the 18th Congress to establish the three new government offices are pending at the committee level in both the House and the Senate. — Charmaine A. Tadalan