By Filane Mikee Cervantes

Session hall of the House of Representatives in Batasan, Quezon City (PNA file photo) 

MANILA – The House of Representatives has successfully passed a series of landmark legislation aimed at fortifying the Philippine economy, revitalizing businesses, and expanding the range of services available to the Filipino people.

These accomplishments, achieved in record time, align seamlessly with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s vision for a prosperous and resilient nation.

The House, under the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez, has displayed legislative efficiency in facilitating the timely approval of these critical measures endorsed by the President in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

Before Congress adjourned for the Christmas break, Romualdez reported that the chamber passed all the 17 SONA priority measures, “seven months ahead” of President Marcos’ next SONA in July 2024.

SONA priority measures

Among the 17 SONA bills, the Automatic Income Classification of Local Government Units (LGUs) Act, which aims to promote greater local autonomy and boost the revenues of LGUs, was signed into law (Republic Act 11964) by the President last Oct. 26.

The Ease of Paying Taxes bill, which is expected to drive foreign direct investments and enhance the country’s competitiveness as an investment destination, is now up for signature by President Marcos.

Those approved on final reading by the House were the amendments to the Fisheries Code, the excise tax on single-use plastics, the value-added tax on digital transactions, the Anti-Financial Accounts Scamming Act, the Philippine Immigration Act, Rationalization of Mining Fiscal Regime, Military and Uniformed Personnel Pension Reform Act, the proposed Motor Vehicle User’s Charge/Road User’s Tax, the Blue Economy Act and amendments to the Anti-Agriculture Smuggling Law.

The chamber also approved on third reading bills that would propose new government procurement and auditing laws to make it more attuned with the times, as well as revisions to the country’s cooperative code to keep it abreast with current situations in the agriculture sector.

Meanwhile, the bill seeking the creation of the Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission to unify policy-making, planning, management, and regulation of water resources, as well as the proposed Tatak Pinoy (Proudly Filipino) Act, which seeks to promote the production and offering of diverse globally competitive Philippine products and services by domestic enterprises, had been ratified by the House.

LEDAC-identified priorities

The chamber passed all 20 measures prioritized by the LEDAC (LEDAC) as of September, or three months ahead of the end-of-the-year target.

Of the 20 LEDAC measures, four have been enacted into law: 1) The National Employment Master Plan or Trabaho Para sa Bayan Act; 2) Automatic Income Classification of LGUs Act; 3) Internet Transactions Act; and 4) Public-Private Partnership Code of the Philippines.

The other LEDAC priority measures passed on third and final reading are: the Philippine Centers for Disease Prevention and Control Act (HB 6522); Health Auxiliary Reinforcement Team Act (HB 6518); Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines Act (HB 6452); Instituting a National Citizens Service Program (HB 6687); Real Property Valuation and Assessment Reform Act (HB 6558); and the E-Governance/E-Government Act (HB 7327).

Also included are: the Waste Treatment Technology Act (HB 6444); New Philippine Passport Act (HB 6510); Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers (HB 7325); National Government Rightsizing Act (HB 7240); Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act (HB 7393); Amending the Bank Secrecy Law (HB 7446); Military and Other Uniformed Personnel Pension Act (HB 8969); and the Anti Agri-fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act of 2023 (HB 9284).

Enrolled bills that have been submitted to Malacañan Palace for the President’s approval and signature into law are the proposal to revive the country’s salt industry, and the ease of paying taxes bill.

“We, as the duly elected representatives of the Filipino people, have done our bounden duty to realize their aspirations by strengthening the economy, revitalizing businesses, and broadening the scope of services provided to the majority of our citizenry,” Romualdez said.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. said Speaker Romualdez has played a remarkable role in shepherding the passage of a fairly large number of priority bills identified by the President and LEDAC for urgent action.

“Under the very able leadership of the Speaker, the House has passed a sizable number of proposed laws meant to bring the Marcos administration closer to the President’s paramount goal of high and inclusive growth for Filipinos by way of accelerating poverty reduction, turbocharging the economy, and generating more and better jobs and livelihood opportunities for all,” Villafuerte said.

2024 budget

Aside from the priority measures, the House was able to pass the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) which contains the PHP5.768-trillion budget.

Romualdez said the spending plan, which was signed into law by the President last Dec. 20, would address four major concerns: fight inflation, keep the price of rice and other basic food items at affordable levels, provide more jobs and livelihood, and expand social services.

He said next year’s outlay includes a “revolutionary rice subsidy program” of the President.

“With this new program, we seek to drive down the price of quality rice by almost half for 28 million Filipinos who are under challenging situations,” Romualdez said.

He pointed out that the rice subsidy program would be implemented in all districts, cities and communities, from Aparri in Cagayan in the north to Jolo, Sulu in the south.

The 2024 budget prioritizes expenditure items that advance social and economic transformation through programs that promote food security, reduction of transport and logistics costs, improved health system, strengthened social protection, sound fiscal management and enhanced bureaucratic efficiency.

Romualdez also highlighted that the House has strategically realigned PHP1.23 billion in confidential funds from civilian agencies to front-line agencies responsible for national security and the protection of the country’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

“The House aligns with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s vision of a modern and well-equipped AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), capable of effectively asserting our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights,” he said.

Productive chamber

Romualdez reported that since the start of the 19th Congress, the chamber has filed 9,763 House bills, 1,576 resolutions, and 1 petition, or a total of 11,340 measures.

Of these House-approved measures, 34 have become laws, eight have been transmitted for presidential action, and 7 have been ratified.

The House records also show that 663 House bills have been approved by the House and are now awaiting action by the Senate.

Romualdez said the House was able to process an average of 28 legislative measures for each of the 121 session days of the 19th Congress.

“We have also approved on third reading 46 percent more House bills and adopted 49 percent more resolutions compared to the first 18 months of the 18th Congress,” he said.

Aside from these legislative accomplishments, the House has also done its other function of oversight through congressional hearings.

Romualdez said the House took a “more activist role” in nation-building, as the chamber reviewed and scrutinized the “implementation, efficiencies, and sufficiency” of existing laws.

He said the chamber also offered remedies that address the country’s issues, eliminated barriers and deflections that hinder the nation’s progress, and laid down policies in the pursuit of good governance and accountability.

“Many have noticed that the House of the People, perhaps for the first time, is exercising fully its oversight function to address the concerns of ordinary Filipinos,” he said.

In aid of legislation, he said the House exposed and brought down a cartel in the onion industry, driving the agricultural product’s price back to a manageable level.

“We are fighting the cartels behind smuggling, hoarding and price manipulation of rice and other food commodities,” he added.

Moving forward

Next year, Romualdez said, the House will shift its focus on studying and reviewing proposals that deal with economic restrictions, particularly those blocking the entry of foreign investments, in the 1987 Constitution.

He said deliberations will be conducted on all proposed measures related to constitutional change.

“This Congress will champion the cause of revisiting our present Constitution. A cause that is key to unlocking the vast potential of our Philippine economy,” he said. (PNA)