By Charissa Luci-Atienza
A “united” House of Representatives that will immediately shepherd the passage of President Duterte’s priority reform measures was the assurance made by Leyte Representative-elect Martin Romualdez during his dinner meeting with the Chief Executive on Wednesday night.
The Speakership candidate assured the President that the incoming 18th Congress would immediately roll up their sleeves to immediately pass the proposed 2020 national budget and find ways to address the funding requirement of his administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
“I took the opportunity to report to him what was discussed and agreed upon by the multi-party caucus hours ago. I assure him of a united House of Representatives,” Romualdez, president of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said.
Romualdez, one of the frontrunners in the Speakership race, had a private dinner meeting with
President Duterte and Senator-elect Bong Go shortly after attending the 122nd-anniversary celebration of the Presidential Security Group in Malacañang on Wednesday night.
“I told the President that my fellow congressmen, even before Congress opens a session on July 22, have begun working on the measures that need to be discussed as soon as possible,” Romualdez said.
A multi-party caucus was held on Wednesday at Seda Hotel in Quezon City to consult the congressional leaders from all political parties and influential blocs on the measures that have to be prioritized in the 18th Congress.
It was attended by 40 congressional leaders representing PDP-Laban, Lakas-CMD, National Unity Party, Nacionalista Party, Liberal Party, and the Party-List Coalition.
Romualdez, who served as the House Independent Bloc during the 16th Congress, disclosed that the congressional leaders agreed to “work double-time and set aside politics” to ensure the immediate approval of President Duterte’s legislative priorities.
“The congressional leaders are unanimous in saying that the 18th Congress will be a real working partner of President Duterte and the Executive Department. All vowed to work double-time to shepherd the approval of the President’s legislative agenda,” he said.
“They also agreed to set aside politics and pool resources together to provide adequate funding for the President’s pet programs and projects that have a direct impact on our people’s lives. This includes the ambitious Build, Build, Build (BBP) Program which the President wants
completed and set in place before the end of his term in 2022,” he added.
Romualdez assured the President of the timely approval of the national budget for 2020 to ensure that government resources are readily available for the implementation of the President’s
programs and projects.
“I informed the President that House leaders have already established a reliable communication line with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and other economic managers to ensure that the 2020 national budget will be approved before the end of the year,” he said.
During his recent meeting with Dominguez, Romualdez expressed the House members’ intention to approve the 2020 National Expenditure Program by October this year.
Romualdez also assured the President that “the budget will be as fair and as equitable as the President mandates” and his flagship programs and projects will be funded.
“I also briefed the President about my meeting with Secretaries Mark Villar and Janet Abuel last Tuesday, where I relayed the commitment of Congress leaders to work on the funding for the President’s flagship infrastructure program,” he said.
During his meeting with Villar and Abuel, it was found out that of the 75 projects under the “Build, Build, Build” Program, 28 were identified as ready for completion before the end of the President’s term in 2022.
“The big challenge for the next Congress is how to make that a multi-year appropriation is in place for the rest of the President’s flagship projects,” Romualdez said.
He said his colleagues fully rally behind the President’s BBP Program as it will generate jobs and improve the lives of Filipinos.
The incoming Leyte representative said those measures which were taken up in the Third Regular session of the 17th Congress but were not approved due to lack of time will be given due attention in the 18th Congress.
These include the Coco Levy Act, National Land Use Act, the Department of Disaster and Resilience, the TRABAHO Bill (TRAIN 2), Excise Tax on Alcohol Products, reforms on real property valuation, Federalism, and mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
“These are the items that we want to revisit and move forward with, along with the separate and specific advocacies of each lawmaker. We only have very few weeks left, and we want to hit the ground running,” Romualdez said.