Duterte administration urged to ramp up spending on infrastructure

Laborers at MRT 7 work overtime to meet the deadline for the latest addition to the country’s mass transit system. The Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 7 will have 22.8 kms of elevated line from North Avenue, Quezon City, to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. The new line will have 14 stations.

House leaders expressed confidence on Tuesday that an economic expansion of 6 percent, or even above, remains “doable” by further ramping up state spending in the last quarter of the year.

Deputy Speaker for Finance Luis Raymund Villafuerte said measures that Congress could undertake to help the Executive accelerate state spending, especially on infrastructure and human capital development to further stimulate growth in the year’s remaining two months and a half, should be discussed by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).

“Perhaps we need to further expedite the implementation of ‘Build, Build, Build’—given infrastructure development’s great multiplier effects on the economy—in order to boost growth in the last quarter,” said Villafuerte, who is a Ledac member, in a news statement.

According to Villafuerte, the House leadership is optimistic that a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6 percent and above remains doable at this point, considering that the relatively good weather is conducive for speed up work in public sector construction.

“The 5.8-percent growth rate for the Philippines projected by the World Bank is still commendable, as this still makes our economy among the fastest growing  in Asia and the world,” he added.

The lawmaker said the World Bank’s tempered growth projection for the country is not unexpected, as growth in the first two quarters were hobbled by the delay in the passage of the 2019 national budget in the House during the previous Congress.

World Bank senior economist for the Philippines Rong Qian, at a news briefing last week, lowered the full-year GDP growth forecast for the Philippines. This, Villafuerte said, partly because of the four-month-and-a-half delay in the implementation of the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which had forced Malacañang to run the government on a reenacted budget and hold off on the implementation of major programs and projects during that period.

However, Duterte administration economic managers bared earlier that the government had underspent by about P1 billion each day while operating on a reenacted 2018 budget in most of the year’s first semester.

Working overtime

Moreover, Villafuerte said the lower chamber will continue to work overtime to pass the administration and 18th Congress’ priority measures, including the 2020 national budget, on time.

With the House’s early transmission of the 2020  General Appropriations Bill (GAB) to the Senate before the October 3 to November 4 break,  he said, the bicameral Congress is on target to submit a consolidated bill to President Duterte for his signature before the year-end.

“This was why under the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, he had made sure that the House would work double time, sometimes for 10 hours straight during the plenary on a five-day workweek, so that the proposed 2020 national budget could be passed in record time—without any pork, illegal insertions or parking of funds,” Villafuerte said.

The House, meanwhile, also vowed to act on the pending priority measures through active the participation of lawmakers when session resumes on November 4.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez have led their colleagues in posting 82 percent attendance record during the first two months of the 18th Congress, or from July 22 to September 23.

According to the House records, an average of 246 of the 300 lawmakers attending the session, or 20 session days when Cayetano, or the presiding officer ordered a roll call.

It was on July 22, or during the election of Speaker, when the House of Representatives posted 297 lawmakers attending the session, the highest number of members present.

Based on records, the lowest attendance of 185 was recorded on August 20, a Tuesday, or the day sandwiched by holidays where the House decided to convene.

Romualdez, for his part, said lawmakers have delivered Duterte’s legislative agenda after processing a total of 220 measures in 20 session days.

Among the bills approved on third and final reading include House Bill 4228 or the 2020 national budget, HB 1026, or a measure imposing additional excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and vape products, HB  300, or amendment to the Foreign Investment Act of 1991, HB 304, or the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (Pifita) and HB 4157, or the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act (Citira), said Romualdez.

“We also immediately passed on third and final reading bills under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program [CTRP] to help reach the ‘A’ credit rating goal of the Duterte administration. We are notch away from A territory rating after a vote of confidence by Standard & Poor’s [S&P], upgrading the country’s credit rating from ‘BBB’ to ‘BBB+’ with a stable outlook because of the robust economic growth,” said Romualdez.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes


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