House eyes budget ratification

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    THE House of Representatives will resume session today to continue working on the administration’s priority measures, including the ratification of the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 before the month-long Christmas break on December 19.

    The ratification of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) into law before the end of the year remains Congress’ top priority to allow President Duterte to sign it before December 31, said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

    “We are looking forward to the bicameral conference on the 2021 GAB and hopefully, we will be able to ratify the bicam report before Congress adjourns for the holidays,” Velasco said.

    The Senate is still holding plenary deliberations on the budget and it is expected that its contingent will meet with their House counterparts in the bicameral level to iron out their differing versions of the measure.

    Velasco said the record-high budget is the government’s “single-most powerful tool” to fight COVID-19 and help the economy and the people recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

    “We are working with our House leaders in finding ways to fast-track priority measures that will ensure a more efficient and responsive government during these trying times,” Velasco said.

    Also high on the House agenda is the approval of the bill strengthening Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), the proposed Internet Transactions Act, and the proposed Magna Carta of Barangay Workers.

    The President earlier certified as urgent House Bill 6174 which seeks to improve the AMLA, saying the amendments are necessary for the country to “comply with legal standards for anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing, as established by relevant international bodies.”

    Velasco underscored the urgent need to pass the bill in order to avoid adverse findings against the country, which could lead to higher costs of doing financial transactions for overseas Filipino workers and the local business sector.

    The bill is now up for second reading approval after it was approved by the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries last month.

    Other priorities are the following: HB 7425 or the proposed Internet Transactions Act which was approved by the committee on trade and industry during the recess, proposed Coconut Levy Fund, National Land Use Act, Rightsizing the National Government Act; the Right to Adequate Food, Anti-Ethnic, Racial and Religious Discrimination Act; and On-site, In-city, Near city Local Government Resettlement program.

    Majority leader Martin Romualdez said the House will also work for the passage of the measure seeking to extend the validity of the Bayanihan 2 to enable the national government to complete the release of the P140-billion response to the coronavirus pandemic even after the end of year 2020.

    Also included in the list of priority economic measures for plenary interpellations are the amendments to the HB 7749 or the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), HB 7425 or the Digital Transactions Value-Added Tax Act, HB 7406 or Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Modernization Program, HB 6135 or Fiscal Mining Regime, and the proposed Internet Transactions Act or e-Commerce law.

    Pending under committee deliberations, Romualdez said, are the Military and Uniformed Personnel (MUP) Services Separation, Retirement and Pension bill; Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization bill, Coconut Farmers Trust Fund bill, Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission bill, Warehouse Receipts bill, National Disease Prevention and Management Authority Bill, and the National Land Use bill.

    Romualdez said these bills are among the legislative imperatives needed to help ensure that the economy recovers quickly from the pandemic-induced crisis in a “strong, sustainable, and resilient manner.”

    The House will also work on the legislative priorities that the President highlighted in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA): the National Disease Prevention Management Authority, Evacuation Centers bill, Assignment of Health Workers in all Barangays, Additional Benefits for Solo Parents, Magna Carta for Barangay Workers, Restoration of Death Penalty for Plunder and Heinous Crimes related to Drug, Modernization of the Bureau of Immigration, Rental Housing Subsidy bill, National Housing Development bill, Medical Reserve Corps, Advance Nursing Education Act, Boracay Island Authority, and amendments to Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016.

    Also in the priority list is the President’s call for intensified efforts against corruption in the government.

    The five measures are: Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero’s HB No. 7230 which seeks to augment the financial resources of the Office of the Ombudsman by giving it a 30 percent share in any property forfeited in favor of the State under Republic Act (RA) No.139, otherwise known as the Forfeiture Law, HB Nos. 581 and 6003 which require the inclusion of anti-corruption and governance education in the basic education and higher education curriculum, respectively, both authored by CIBAC party-list Reps. Eduardo Villanueva and Domingo Rivera, Cavite Rep. Francis Abaya’s HB No. 967 which seeks to provide protection and benefits to persons who would report corrupt officials and would serve as witnesses for their prosecution, and HB No. 579 which seeks to create the National Independent Commission Against Corruption (NICAC) as an attached agency of the Office of the Ombudsman, also filed by Villanueva and Rivera.

    Meanwhile, Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri yesterday pushed for the realignment of portions of the government’s P19-billion anti-insurgency funds to beef up calamity response efforts.

    In an interview with dzRH, Zubiri said the minority senators’ proposal to realign portions of the anti-insurgency budget for next year is a welcome idea as it will add to the government’s response efforts now that the country has been hit by typhoons, aside from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “I am in favor of bringing development to our barangays to totally eliminate insurgency, not only of the communist front, but also of the bandits. Maybe we should split it [anti-insurgency budget] into half. Let us leave something for barangay development,” Zubiri said.

    Minority senators led by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon have proposed realigning the said budget for disaster response since the government’s calamity funds have been depleted due to several calamities that hit the country this year, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III shot down the minority senators’ proposal, saying the anti-insurgency funds must not be touched as solving the country’s insurgency problems is one of the flagship programs of the Duterte administration.

    Under the program, each of the country’s 822 barangays cleared of insurgents will be given P20 million each to develop their respective barangays. There are 42,045 barangays nationwide. – With Raymond Africa