House begins 2020 budget hearings

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019   •   833

The House Committee on Appropriations begins its deliberations on the proposed 4.1-Trillion national budget for 2020. | 📷 House of Representatives Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Thursday started its hearing on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for the year 2020.

The House Committee on Appropriations began its budget deliberations with a briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC), the inter-agency that sets the overall economic targets, expenditure levels and budget of the government.

Davao City Third District Rep. Isidro Ungab, who chairs the committee, earlier said the DBCC briefing is one of the most important aspects in the lawmakers’ work and duty to scrutinize the 2020 national budget bill.

“The macroeconomic assumptions to be outlined will help guide our policy makers and business sector to craft plans based on the government projections on economic growth, price stability, among others, including government expenditures, as well as general directions for the coming fiscal year,” Ungab said in a statement.

The Thursday’s DBCC briefing was participated by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Finance (DOF), and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

On Friday, Ungab said officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) will present their budget proposals to the committee.

Prior to the start of the House budget deliberations, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano called for a major caucus with the members of the 18th Congress on Wednesday.

Around 160 lawmakers attended the meeting, which according to Cayetano, discussed the various priority measures laid out by President Rodrigo Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address and the setting of tasks and responsibilities.

“We discussed the various priority measures enumerated by President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address last month which will be included in the informal coordination meeting with the Senate and the Executive offices next week” Cayetano said in a Facebook post.

“After receiving the 2020 national budget yesterday, we are setting timelines and defining tasks and responsibilities to ensure that we get things done,” he added.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez earlier said they are targeting to hold marathon sessions, both in the plenary and committee level, to ensure the passage of the budget bill before the end of the year.

House leaders earlier said they are eyeing to approve the budget on October 4.

Romualdez said that by September 12, the lower chamber would hold sessions on Thursdays and Fridays, past the regular schedule of Monday to Wednesday.

He added that the plenary session has also been moved from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to give way to four budget hearings scheduled by the appropriations committee. (RRD with details from correspondent Joan Nano)

House begins plenary debates on proposed economic charter changes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Monday started its plenary deliberations on proposals seeking to amend the “restrictive” economic provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., the chairperson of House committee on constitutional amendments, sponsored Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 in the plenary, signifying the start of the entire chamber’s discussion on the proposed changes in the economic provisions of the country’s charter.

In his sponsorship speech, Garbin stressed that passing the resolution will give the government the freedom to adopt measures that will pave the way for economic development.

“It is wise for Congress to amend the Constitution by adding the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ in order to give the government enough flexibility to consider different circumstances prevailing at different stages our road to economic development before formulating policies that should be time-bound,” he said.

Garbin emphasized that economic conditions “are never static, so must the fundamental law be freed from the constraint of rigidity. While it is reduced to writing, it should not be devoid of the element of flexibility.”

The House panel earlier approved RBH No. 2 which aims to amend existing economic provisions in the Philippine charter to open up the country to foreign investors in a bid to help the pandemic-battered economy to recover.

Garbin noted observations that the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions “have proven to be a bane, rather than a boon for the country, for they have restricted or discouraged the flow of foreign direct investments.”

“While these provisions may be very well-meaning and appear to favor the interests of Filipinos, over the long haul, the country and the common good of all Filipinos suffer,” he added.

The lawmaker also said that the Philippines should not be afraid to compete in today’s global economy as he stressed on the need to amend or eliminate overly protective provisions to attract more foreign investments.

The legislator was referring to provisions of the Constitution that limit foreign ownership in business enterprises operating in the country, including public utilities.

While the solon reminded his fellow lawmakers that all Filipinos are duty-bound to respect and obey the Constitution, “the obligation to respect, obey and to dutifully protect does not equate to permanence.”

“It does not mean that the tenets therein would no longer be changed if change is necessary and if change is desired by the people.”

Garbin earlier said that the House plans to approve the resolution on third and final reading before Congress goes on recess on March 27.

House to pass bill on vaccine indemnity fund on Feb. 22 – Velasco

Robie de Guzman   •   February 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is set to approve on Monday, February 22, a bill seeking to establish an indemnification fund and expedite the procurement of vaccines against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the lower chamber is expected to pass House Bill No. 8648 on second and third readings after the measure was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“As soon as we were apprised that the indemnification fund is a requirement of the vaccine manufacturers, we wasted no time in filing House Bill 8648, which would allow emergency procurement of vaccines and provide the required indemnification fund,” Velasco said in a statement.

House Bill 8648 proposes to provide exemptions to compliance by local government units with the procurement requirements under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act in the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines and other much-needed supplies during the pandemic.

The bill pushes for the vaccines to be exempted from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, and other fees, provided that the shots to be acquired by LGUs “shall only be used for their residents and constituents, and not for commercial distribution.”

The bill is now up for second reading after it was approved by the Committee on Appropriations and sponsored in plenary.

Aside from the vaccine indemnification bill, Velasco said the House is also prepared to pass the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act (Bayanihan 3), which proposes a P420-billion fund for the implementation of much-needed COVID-19 response and recovery interventions.

The proposal also includes a P25-billion budget for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines.

The House speaker said the lower chamber has always been supportive of the national government’s efforts to fight COVID-19 noting the passage of the 2021 national budget, which includes a P72.5 billion allocation for vaccine procurement, as well as the Bayanihan 1 and 2.

“Rest assured that the House will continue to pass legislation that would help sustain the national government’s efforts in addressing the pandemic, so we can all return to normal at the soonest possible time,” he said.

Speaker Velasco files P420-B Bayanihan 3 bill

Freema Gloria   •   February 8, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Allan Velasco has filed a bill proposing a P420-billion fund to further help stimulate the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release, Velasco, together with Marikina City 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo filed last Thursday (February 4) House bill 8628 or the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act, also known Bayanihan 3.

The proposed bill has so far gained support from 115 members of major political parties and power blocs comprising the supermajority in the lower chamber of Congress, and expressed their intent to co-author the said bill.

The House Speaker believes that while the two previous Bayanihan laws — the Bayanihan to Heal As One, and Bayanihan to Recover As one — have helped with the initial capacity of the government to respond to the impact of COVID-19 crisis, these were “not sufficient for the genuine economic recovery of the country”.

“Given that actual economic output in 2020 was far below what was assumed for budget purposes, and further losses may still be incurred as the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to prevail well into the current fiscal year, an additional economic stimulus package is needed to help the government meet its recovery targets for the year,” Velasco pointed out.

The proposed P420-B appropriation under Bayanihan 3 has been breakdown into the following:

• P52 billion for subsidies to small business for wages and other worker-related expenses;

• P100 billion for the capacity-building of businesses in critically impacted sectors;

• P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households through programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development;

• P70 billion for the provision of assistance and capacity-building to farmers, livestock producers and fishermen;

• P30 billion for the implementation of unemployment assistance and cash-for-work programs under the Department of Labor and Employment;

• P30 billion for internet allowances to primary, secondary and tertiary students and teachers in public and private educational institutions;

• P5 billion to the Department of Public Works and Highways for the rehabilitation of typhoon-affected areas, including the repair, reconstruction and/or construction of flood control works, roads, bridges, public buildings and other damaged public works, to be distributed proportionately among provinces and cities affected;

• P25 billion to the Department of Health for the procurement of COVID-19 medication and vaccines, and to finance logistics, information awareness campaigns, and other related operational expenses.

Velasco stressed that the government must take the lead to promote business and consumer confidence and social welfare. He further stated, “Increased, well-targeted spending is a vital step to achieving these goals”

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