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HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2020 - 12:00am

The first five months of the House of Representatives under the 18th Congress have been generally controversy-free, but the large number of quality bills passed in so short a time and without fanfare may have been enough to restore trust and confidence in the institution.

According to Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, the Lower House was productive under its current leadership and membership not because of the quantity, but because of the  quality of the bills passed.

One of the so-called quality bills is the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act (CITIRA), or Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program earlier referred to as TRAIN 2, which aims to reduce the corporate income tax from 30 percent to 20 percent and to rationalize fiscal incentives. The bill was approved by the House last September.

Other bills worth noting are the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA) or Package 4, which aims to make the taxation system in the financial sector simpler and fairer, the new Salary Standardization Law which will raise the pay of government workers, and the bill which imposes higher taxes on cigarettes and which has been passed into law as Republic Act no. 11346 or the Tobacco Tax Reform Act. There is another bill slapping increased taxes on alcohol products and electronic cigarettes which is awaiting President Duterte’s signature.

 Meanwhile, the Lower House has also approved amendments to the Foreign Investments Act last September. Under the proposal, foreigners may own small and medium-sized enterprises with a minimum paid-up capital of less than $100,000 if it involves advanced technology or it employs at least 15 direct employees. The bill will also allow foreigners to practice their professions in the Philippines by removing this from the Foreign Investment Negative List.

The practice of profession in the Philippines as well as enterprises with paid-up capital of less than $100,000 is currently reserved exclusively for Filipino citizens.

 Both the tobacco tax reform law and the bill proposing to increase taxes on alcohol products and e-cigarettes will provide additional funding for the Universal Health Care program, which will mostly benefit low-income families. Raising excise taxes on sin products such as alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes will also discourage smoking and binge drinking, especially among the youth, according to the House.

For his part, House appropriations committee chairman and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab said he considers the timely approval of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill that is pork-free and without any parked funds as among the most notable achievements of the House during Rep. Allan Peter Cayetano’s first five months as Speaker.

By the fourth quarter of 2019, Cayetano’s performance and trust ratings in public opinion polls have risen dramatically in a short span of three months. His trust rating improved from 62 percent in September to 76 percent in December, according to the latest Pulse Asia Survey covering 1,200 respondents across the country. He also garnered an  80 percent performance rating, a historic high for a Speaker of the House and a remarkable improvement of 16 percentage points from his September rating of 64 percent. 

House members say Cayetano’s high ratings can be attributed in large part to the positive changes that the public are seeing in the institution under his leadership. For instance, the proposed 2020 national budget was passed in record time without any controversy, while several priority bills of the President were promptly acted upon. The public saw the House as a hardworking legislative chamber under Cayetano.

Some lawmakers, meanwhile, attributed Cayetano’s high ratings to the success of the 30th Southeast Asian Games,  which was organized by the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) that he chaired.  But his chairmanship of the committee was not without controversy. There were calls for congressional investigations on the PHISGOC’s role in organizing the Games and criticisms about a few glitches in the accommodations and transportation arrangements for the arriving athletes.

 Deputy Speaker and Antipolo Rep. Roberto Puno said the image of the House as a responsible and reliable legislative body has been restored while fellow Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Pablo John Garcia noted that the House has become a better legislative chamber, with discipline instilled among its members not by fear but by leading by example. 

 For his part, Deputy Speaker and Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal said he is confident that under the current House leadership, Mindanao will not be left out and will continue to be developed not only through the big-ticket railway projects under the President’s Build Build Build program but also through projects specific to communities that badly need infrastructure the most.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero emphasized that the bill creating a Department of Disaster Resilience, another priority measure of President Duterte, was passed swiftly by the House committees on government reorganization and disaster management and that she expects the House to approve the bill soon under the current House leadership.

 For many of these proposed measures, the ball is now in the Senate’s court. Let us all hope that the Senate equally does it work well, sans grandstanding and waste of the people’s money and time.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

18TH CONGRESS
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