Belmonte commits to make final days of 16th Congress productive

The session hall of the House of Representatives is now being readied for the final nine session days of the 16th Congress. NONIE REYES


EVEN with just nine session days left in the 16th Congress, the leadership of the House of Representatives assured the public that it would still be able to pass seven critical measures.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that despite the expected shift in the lawmakers’ focus on the May elections, the leadership would make an effort to pass the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL); the bill strengthening Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Program, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA); amendments to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) charter; the creation of the Coco Levy Trust Fund, the bill creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT); and the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) of 2015.

“[The lower chamber] would maximize its remaining workdays to deal with important business [before they take a break for the May 2016 elections],” Belmonte said. “We will never renege on our constitutional mandate to promote good governance and protect the national interest and our people’s welfare, despite the time constraint now faced by the 16th Congress.”

The 16th Congress went on a Christmas break last December 19, and is expected to resume on January 19.

The third and last regular session of the 16th Congress is expected to be cut short, as the two chambers will take a break again from February 6 to May 22 for the 2016 national and local elections.


Now or never for BBL

Despite the limited time, Belmonte has expressed confidence that the Palace-backed BBL will be passed into law before the 16th Congress ends.

The measure is currently pending second-reading approval at the House and awaiting plenary deliberations at the Senate.

The BBL aims to create the new Bangsamoro juridical entity replacing the Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao.

Besides the issue of material time, Centrist Democratic Party Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, the chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, earlier hinted at the death of the peace measure, as the lower house is facing serious absenteeism problem.

However, Belmonte has expressed optimism that the lower chamber can pass the proposed BBL despite the expected continued quorum problem.


Strengthening the PPP

The House Committee on Appropriations has recently endorsed for plenary approval a measure institutionalizing and strengthening the PPP Program.

Liberal Party Rep. Isidro T.
Ungab of Davao City said the substitute bill seeks to recognize the indispensable role of the private sector as the main engine for national growth and development, and create an enabling environment for PPP.

The measure also seeks to provide the most appropriate incentives to mobilize private resources for the purpose of design, construction, operation, financing and maintenance of infrastructure projects and services normally financed and undertaken by the government, Ungab said.

The bill said that, among other incentives, PPP projects in excess of P1 billion shall be entitled to incentives as provided by the Omnibus Investment Code, upon prior endorsement of the PPP Center and registration by the project proponent with the Board of Investments.

To achieve the goals of this act, the measure said the PPP Center created under Executive Order 8, series of 2010, is hereby institutionalized. It is also hereby authorized to adopt its current organizational structure, absorb its existing employees and upgrade its human-resource component, as may be necessary.

Also, a joint congressional oversight committee is hereby created to oversee the implementation of this act.


CMTA to end smuggling

The proposed CMTA, which primarily aims to address smuggling, is now awaiting third and final reading at the Senate. The  lower chamber already approved it on third and final reading in October 2015.

Belmonte said the  CMTA bill is among the priority measures of the House in the 16th Congress, as it is expected to address smuggling in the country.

“Smuggling is one of the country’s major economic problems, causing huge revenue losses to the government because of the illegal entry of imported goods and services in the local market,” he said.

The measure aims to modernize customs and tariff administration through full automation of operations and, thus, reduce the opportunities for corruption and technical smuggling; and enact an enabling domestic legislation to make the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines compliant with the revised Kyoto Convention.


SSL of 2015

Majority Leader and Liberal Party Rep. Neptali M. Gonzales II of Mandaluyong City said the
proposed SSL of 2015 will be approved this month. The lower chamber ealier failed to ratify the SSL, after the Senate reconsidered it on third reading last December.

Sen. Vicente C. Sotto III had called for the SSL to be reconsidered, after Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile proposed some amendments to the bill.

Meanwhile, the House version of the SSL seeks to strengthen the link between pay and performance through an enhanced performance-based bonus system; temper the cost of benefit while maximizing the benefits of employees; and allow higher take-home pay, especially for government personnel belonging to the lower-salary grades.

The measure will result in a weighted average increase of 45 percent in the compensation of all salary grades and raise compensation of government personnel to at least 70 percent of the private-sector rate.


BSP charter amendments

Belmonte, meanwhile, asked the Senate to pass its version of the  bill amending The New Central Bank Act, as the lower chamber already approved it on third and final reading.

Belmonte, principal author of House Bill 5875, said 23 years since the Central Bank Act was enacted, the economic milieu in the country has changed; globalization has increased the integration of financial markets; and the scope of operations of financial institutions has evolved.

“In light of this realities and developments, there is undoubtedly a need to respond to contemporary challenges by amending RA [Republic Act] 7653, so the BSP remains effective in its conduct of monetary policy and supervision of entities within the financial system,” Belmonte said.
Information and communications

Also awaiting bicameral committee deliberations is the bill creating the DICT, which is also among the priority measures of the 16th Congress.

The DICT that shall be the primary government entity to plan, promote and help develop the ICT sector, and ensure reliable and cost-efficient communications facilities and other multimedia infrastructure and services in the country.
Coco-levy trust fund

Party-list Rep. Sharon S. Garin of AAMBIS-Owa said the long wait may be over for the thousands of poor coconut farmers and their families fighting for their right to the coco-levy funds, as the lower chamber already approved the bill calling for the establishment of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.

The bill seeks to establish a Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, which shall consist of the trust principal and the trust income. It added that no portion of the fund shall accrue to the general fund of the national government. The measure also said the trust fund shall be used exclusively for the ultimate benefit of coconut farmers and farm workers, as embodied in the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plant prepared pursuant to this act.


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