By Charissa Luci-Atienza
As Congress resumes sessions Monday, November 4, the House of Representatives will prioritize the final approval of the bill seeking to postpone the May 2020 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections and the Joint Resolution extending the availability of the 2019 appropriations for maintenance and capital outlays to December 31, 2020.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez assured that they will roll up their sleeves to immediately pass the two priority measures.
“We aim to hit the ground running on the first day of work. Time to roll up our sleeves once again and work double time on vital legislative measures,” he said in a statement.
He also expressed the House leadership’s commitment to expedite the passage of a Joint Resolution authorizing the use of the rice subsidy as provided in this year’s P3.757-trillion national budget for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.
During the break last October 24, the House Committee on Agriculture and Food approved the Joint Resolution that seeks to alleviate the plight of the country’s poor farmers following the continued fall of palay prices as a result of the implementation of Republic Act No. 11203, also known as the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).
Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, earlier said that there is a need for Malacañang to certify as urgent the approval of the House joint resolution to ensure its speedy adoption in both houses of Congress.
He said they could immediately approve today if there is a certification from President Duterte.
The joint resolution mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in coordination with the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), to directly purchase palay of the local farmers and distribute rice subsidy in the form of actual rice, instead of cash.
Romualdez said they would also prioritize the passage of other economic measures–Real Property Valuation Reform, amendments to the Public Service Act, a bill raising the Motor Vehicle Road User’s Tax, and the creation of three new departments–Department of Water Resources, the Department of Filipino Overseas, and the Department of Disaster Resilience.
Re-echoing Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano’s commitment, Romualdez said they will pass the measures creating the three new government agencies before year-end.
During his fourth State of the Nation Address last July 22, President Duterte asked Congress to pass these measures.
Romualdez said the House is also eyeing to pass within this year the measure seeking to provide free legal assistance to officers and enlisted personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who are charged in relation to the performance of their duties.
“These military officers offer their lives to serve and protect the public. It is but just to spare them from legal fees arising from harassment and nuisance cases,” he said.
The House leader noted that the Lower Chamber already approved 18 measures on third and final reading since the start of the 18th Congress in July. These included the 2020 national budget, key tax bills, and amendments to the Foreign Investment Act of 1991.
“The tax legislation that we passed under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP) will help the government achieve the A credit rating goal of the Duterte administration. We are a notch away from ‘A’ territory 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 robust economic growth,” Romualdez said.
Among the measures mentioned by President Duterte during his SONA were the measure seeking the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections; the Magna Carta for Barangays; the National Land Use Bill; the creation of the Departments for Overseas Filipino Workers, Disaster Resilience, and Water resources; the fire protection modernization program; the new Salary Standardization Law; the new version of the measure outlining the disposal of the coconut levy funds; and the mandatory implementation of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in senior high school.