Decisive Congress needed

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

As a new year as about to unfold, our Congress is faced with the unenviable task of going through a number of proposed legislative measures that could determine the success or failure of our economy moving forward.

First is the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act (CITIRA), previously referred to as TRAIN 2 which, based on the bill approved by the House of Representatives, will reduce the country’s corporate income tax rate to 20 percent from the current 30 percent. CITIRA, which has been approved on third and final reading at the House of Representatives, will also rationalize fiscal incentives, including removing the five percent tax on gross income earned by firms operating in economic zones in lieu of all national and local taxes after their income tax holiday period ends.

While House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was able to have the CITIRA bill approved in the Lower House in a short period of time, a tougher battle is expected in the Senate, especially after Trade and Industry Secretary Mon Lopez earlier announced that a new CITIRA bill would be filed to address concerns raised against it.

Also under Cayetano’s watch, the House approved the 2020 national budget in record time. Other priority measures of President Duterte that have been passed are the bill further increasing taxes on alcohol and e-cigarettes to help fund the Universal Health Care program, the measure establishing Malasakit Centers across the country, and the new salary standardization plan for state workers. 

But the House still has its hands full, with other proposed priority legislative measures still pending like the amendments to the Foreign Investment Act of 1991, the National Land Use bill, amendments to the Public Service Act, among others.

Despite the brickbats thrown his way, Cayetano remained oblivious to them, focusing instead on his work as Speaker. He was known to work even on non-session days, on weekends, and with some days stretching to the wee hours of the morning. His attitude has infected and inspired  his fellow lawmakers to likewise work hard. 

These achievements obviously had not gone unnoticed by the public. Cayetano continued to see both his performance and trust ratings rise in the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted between Dec. 3 and 8 this year. His approval rating jumped to 80 percent during that period from 64 percent in the third-quarter survey done in September.  His  trust scores were at 76 percent, up from 62 percent in September. 

Cayetano’s positive showing pulled up the performance ratings of the House, which rose to 66 percent in the latest survey from 60 percent in September. 

 President Duterte remains the country’s most trusted official, with a rating of 83 percent, from 74 percent grade in September. His approval rating likewise improved from 79 percent to 87 percent.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III got an 84 percent approval and a 78 percent trust rating, while Vice President Leni Robredo’s approval rating was at  58 percent, and her  trust numbers  at 53 percent.

Cayetano, as chair of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), is also largely credited for the country’s successful and highly touted hosting of the biggest SEA Games so far.

There were allegations about overpriced purchases and questions about the transfer of public funds to PHISGOC, but apparently, the public does not share these concerns.

Since we are on the topic of the recently concluded SEA Games, the office of Sen. Ping Lacson, wanted to set the record straight in connection with the senator’s proposed investigation into issues involving the SEAG.

According to Lacson’s office, the senator has made it clear that while he fully supports the athletes and joins the nation in celebrating their triumph, there had been concerns raised about the organizers that cannot be ignored, such as the transfer of funds from a government agency to a private foundation, in this case, the PHISGOC.

It said that an inquiry may get to the bottom of the reported organizing woes in the days leading to the opening ceremony of the SEAG, as well as reported claims by organizers that they had little time to prepare, to lead to legislation that would address these concerns.

Lacson has emphasized that if the PHISGOC has nothing to hide as Cayetano has stated, an investigation would clear the air of such concerns.
Not so hidden agenda

INDANG PINEAPPLE FOR EXPORT: Mensch Fil-Am Corp., represented by its president Racquel Simon (sixth from left), signed an agreement with Indang, Cavite-based Baby Angelo Farms Inc. (BAFI) for the development of an MD2 variety pineapple plantation covering an initial 10 hectares in Indang. Mensch will purchase the produce from BAFI for export to countries like Japan, Dubai, Iran, and if negotiations push through, Israel. MD2 pineapples for export are currently sourced from Mindanao and it will be the first time that they will be sourced from outside Mindanao. Simon revealed that based on initial studies, MD2 pineapples from Indang will be much sweeter than those from Mindanao. Joining the signing are Mensch chairman Carl Hochman (fifth from left), BAFI president Caesar Wongchuking (sixth from right), and farm manager Nap Cordez (fourth from right). Mensch has been exporting pineapples and ba-nanas and has been supplying local supermarket chains with organic vegetables sourced from Indang farmers. BAFI, meanwhile, currently produces dragonfruit, papaya, bananas and lettuce for the local market.

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