Senate opens third regular session of 18th Congress

Robie de Guzman   •   July 26, 2021   •   233

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Monday opened the third and last regular session of the 18th Congress ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) later in the day.

Thirteen senators personally attended the opening of the session while nine were virtually present.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III presided over the opening of the session.

In its third regular session, the Senate said it will work for the passage of 10 priority measures.

These include the Amendments to the Foreign Investment Acts (FIA), Amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA), Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.

The upper chamber will also prioritize the passage of Package 4 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP) or the Passive Income Tax and Financial Intermediary Tax Act (PIFITA), Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP), Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act (Agri-Agra) and Package 3 of the CTRP or the Valuation Reform Bill.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said the Senate will work on the passage of the following measures: Modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection, Increasing the Statutory Rape Age Act, Military and Uniformed Personnel Insurance Fund Act, Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Act, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Extension Law and possibly the Bayanihan 3.

Just like last year, visitors and guests will not be allowed inside the Senate premises due to stringent health protocols and regulations.

Family members of senators, former senators, government officials, and media personalities will also not be allowed inside the gallery hall. Only selected Senate employees will be allowed inside to assist during the session.

After the morning session, Sotto will lead some senators to the House of Representatives for a joint session of Congress to hear Duterte’s SONA.

Sotto earlier said only eight senators will physically witness Duterte deliver his SONA due to restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate panel questions P100B worth of unimplemented projects in 2021 budget

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate finance subcommittee on Wednesday (September 22) questioned the P100 billion-worth of unimplemented projects.

During Wednesday’s virtual hearing of the panel, Senator Nancy Binay questioned  the P100 billion worth of unimplemented projects due to the absence of clearance from the Office of the President (OP).

According to Binay, only about 30% of the Department of Public Works and Highways’  projects for  2021 have so far been implemented because there was no clearance from the OP.

“Nakakagulat kasi nga mag-o-October na in a few days and then may maririnig tayo na P100 billion worth of projects na alam natin can generate a lot of jobs na kailangan na kailangan natin ngayon pero hanggang ngayon hindi nga nai-implement ang mga programa na ito ” she said.

The said infrastructure projects were marked ‘For Later Release’ under the 2021 national budget and there is still no clearance from the OP.  The senators said the unused funds will return to the national treasury once the year ends.

Senator Miguel Zubiri urged the release of the funds which also include the budget for ‘Doktor Para sa Bayan Act’ which aims to provide medical scholarships. He also called for an executive session to discuss the issue.

“We all know that we need to have countryside development, and the only way to do countryside development is to push for medical scholarships, to push for this infrastructure programs,” he said.

The OP, meanwhile, the said budget would still need to be reviewed since it was not part of the original budget submitted under the 2021 National Expenditure Program.

“Many of these—because they are not in the NEP—have not gone through the usual vetting process of the agencies and so there’s that reason to place them in a category of their own, which warrants the imposition of special conditions for their release,” according to OP Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Michael Ong.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea assured that the release of the budget mentioned will be given priority.

“We will just look into it and see to it that this will be acted soonest,” he said. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Villar, Pacquiao among billionaire senators in 2020

Marje Pelayo   •   September 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Cynthia Villar remains the richest senator based on the 2020 Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

Based on the SALN released by the Senate of the Philippines, Villar has a net worth of P3.87 billion followed by boxing Senator Manny Pacquiao who has a net worth of P3.18 billion.

Meanwhile, detained Senator Leila de Lima ranked the poorest among senators with a net worth of P9.54 million.

The release of SALNs has been a practice to inform the public of the assets of government officials for transparency.

Though recently, Malacañang has been arguing against it saying President Rodrigo Duterte may opt not to release his SALN and leave the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

List of richest, poorest senators based on 2020 SALN:

Cynthia Villa P3,875,696,435
Manny Pacquiao – P3,187,092,600
Ralph Recto – P581,071,657
Juan Miguel Zubiri – P220,736,702
Ramon Revilla – P179,958,909
Juan Edgardo Angara – P150,898,358
Franklin Drilon – P106,862,853
Grace Poe – P101,327,620
Sherwin Gatchalian – 91,213,596
Vicente Sotto III – P85,643,477
Pia Cayetano – P84,891,678
Richard Gordon – P77,569,572
Manuel Lapid – P74,948,572
Francis Tolentino – P59,582,000
Nancy Binay – P59,770,251
Panfilo Lacson – P58,330,268
Aquilino Pimentel III – P37,203,400
Imee Marcos – P36,270,467
Ronald Dela Rosa – P34,383,136
Joel Villanueva – P33,029,725
Francis Pangilinan – P23,941,333
Christopher Lawrence Go – P22,274,508
Risa Hontiveros – P16,720, 359
Leila De Lima – P9,544,111

Lawmakers say national budget must keep pace with COVID-19 pandemic

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines— Some lawmakers believe that the proposed national budget for 2022 does not fit with the country’s continuous fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Nancy Binay lamented that the country is a step behind when it comes to addressing the effects and risks of COVID-19.

Hindi natin nauunahan ang virus. Lagi tayong nasa catch-up. Kaya para sa akin for next year unahan na natin, pondohan na natin (We can’t seem to get ahead of the virus. We are always catching up. So, for me, for next year let us catch up to it. Let’s allot a budget for it),” she said.

Binay finds next year’s budget lacking with regards to providing aid, and raised concern on the placement of P45 billion fund for COVID-19 booster shots under unprogrammed funds. She also noted the lack of budget for contract tracing.

Ang 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID-19 ang daming kulang. Can you imagine, walang budget for contact tracing? And then noong tinanong ko sa Department of Budget and Management (DBM) bakit walang budget, ang sagot sa akin, kasi hindi raw hiningi ng Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), (The 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID-19, there is a lot lacking. Can you imagine, there is no budget for contract tracing? And when I asked the DBM why there is no budget, they said, ” It’s because DILG did not ask for it”), Binay said.

Chairman of the Committee on Finance Senator Sonny Angara noted that many of the requirements of the various government agencies and offices are not contained in the copy of the national budget submitted to Congress, particularly those related to the COVID-19 response.

“Agencies should be allowed to submit revisions to their proposed budgets to reflect new developments brought about by the pandemic. The spread of COVID has been rapid and our budget must be able to keep up with it,” the senator said.

Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin also noted that there is no budget for COVID-19 testing.

“The current proposed NEP (national expenditure program) while there are provisions there for some response for the pandemic, you also have a lot of items under the DOH that can actually be realigned for the procurement of vaccines,” she said. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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