By Russell Louis C. Ku

THE HOUSE of Representatives will include the ease of paying taxes bill among its priorities, Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco said on Monday as the 18th Congress reconvened for its third and final regular session.

“The lockdowns and other restrictions being imposed due to the pandemic heightened the need for flexible and more efficient ways of doing business in administering access,” Mr. Velasco said in his speech to House members. 

House Bill 8942 seeks to simplify rules and processes in filing and paying taxes such as removing venue restrictions and segmenting taxpayers; remove the P500 annual taxpayer registration fee; create registration facilities for non-resident taxpayers; and institutionalize a “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.”

The measure has been approved by the House Committee on Ways and Means and is currently undergoing plenary deliberations.

Albay Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda welcomed the inclusion of the bill among the priority measures and said he expects it to be passed in the House by August.

He explained that the streamlining of tax procedures can provide additional government revenue, adding that the measure eliminates “tax uncertainty” amongst potential investors and lowers the tax gap due to “outdated” policies.

The bill is one of the priority legislations being pushed by business groups and foreign chambers.

“The increased tax compliance resulting from the tax administration efficiency introduced through this measure may bring in an estimated P73.1 billion for the government in the first five years of implementation,” Mr. Salceda told  BusinessWorld.   

The other House priorities cited by Mr. Velasco include the Philippine Creative Industries Bill along with measures earlier listed such as Philippine Virology Institute Bill, Center for Disease Control Bill, Medical Stockpiling Bill, and Unified Military and Uniformed Services Personnel Separation, Retirement, and Pension Bill. 

“We also recognize the devastating impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) on our creative industries and truly support to organize and institutionalize the Philippine creative economy,” he said.

On next year’s budget, the House leader said they aim to begin deliberations as soon as the administration submits the 2022 National Expenditure Program to Congress.

“We have to scrutinize, refine, and construct the budget properly in order to address the growing needs of our country, especially in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” Mr. Velasco said in Filipino. 

In the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III emphasized the urgency of passing all important bills before receiving the budget or General Appropriations Bill from the House.

Mr. Sotto, who has announced that he is running for the vice presidency in the 2022 elections in tandem with Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, said he trusts that all senators will not let the campaign preparations affect their work.

“Most of the senators act like statesmen. They will prioritize their work. That is the leadership that I always show. I don’t see the campaign becoming a problem. I’m sure work will be the priority because that will be my priority and our priority,” he said.

Among the measures that the Senate will focus on, according to Mr. Sotto, include the Retail Trade Liberation Act, Foreign Investments Act, and Public Services Act, which have all been certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and pending in the bicameral committee.

If these are not settled, Mr. Sotto said, only then will the Senate prioritize the third COVID-19 stimulus package under the Bayanihan III bill of the House and Bayanihan to Heal as One Act by the Senate.

Mr. Sotto and Senate Majority leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said the potential impact of the more transmissible coronavirus Delta variant, with more than 100 cases already recorded in the country, could also push the Bayanihan III bill at the top of the priority list.

On charter change involving economic provisions, Mr. Sotto said no talks had been undertaken, but Mr. Zubiri said there will be time to tackle it early next year.

“We have plenty of time to discuss it because at the latest, we have to have this passed by February, before the break,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. — with Alyssa Nicole O. Tan