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FIST still in Senate over a month since getting ratified
Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) bill is yet to reach Duterte's desk because "routing of the signatures has not been completed."
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FIST still in Senate over a month since getting ratified

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - January 18, 2021 - 6:39pm

MANILA, Philippines — Earlier on Monday, a business group pressed President Rodrigo Duterte to already enact the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) bill. It turned out the measure is not with the president yet, over a month since it was ratified by Congress.

FIST, a priority legislation touted as one of the government’s stimulus measures, has been stuck at the Senate since December 15 last year when lawmakers rushed its passage supposedly to get it approved early this year.

“Routing of signatures has not been completed. It’s now in the minority leader’s office I am told,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a text message on Monday.

What happened

In a separate text message, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said his office only got hold of the enrolled bill “today” even as he stressed that “there is no delay.” House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s office confirmed FIST is still with Congress.

Indeed, following Congress’ schedule, the stimulus bill was unfortunately caught entangled between breaks. When legislators ratified FIST in December 15, only two days were left in the session to have the bill printed and prepared for signatures of leaders of both houses. 

“During the (Congress) break, it was printed and copy was proofread for accuracy,” Drilon explained.

“It was only this afternoon that I received it to affix my signature to attest as to its accuracy before the Senate President signs and sends to the President for approval,” he added.

Sotto, for his part, said that the current work-from-home arrangements of some Senate staff likely derailed the bill’s transmittal. Still, he was non-committal as to when the chamber targets to hand FIST to President Rodrigo Duterte for signing. “As soon as signed,” he merely said.

Why this matters

After the Senate, the enrolled bill would go to the Office of the President where Duterte has 30 days from receipt to sign it into law or veto it. Typically, a bill undergoes review by Malacañang before the president is advised to act on it.

Business groups have been calling for FIST’s passage, along with that of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill which is currently being threshed out by separate contingents from the Lower House and the Senate. 

FIST and CREATE, along with the 2021 budget and GFIs Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill, form part of the Duterte administration’s preferred stimulus measures to help the economy recovery from the pandemic shock.

More specifically, FIST will allow banks to unload unpaid debts to separate entities so that they save in capital to cover losses, and be able to lend out to consumers and businesses. Without FIST, the fear is that banks are forced to set aside cash to cover losses from bad loans, instead of giving credit to the economy.

On Monday, the Financial Executives of the Philippines added its voice for the swift enactment of FIST. “We respectfully request the President to sign into law the…FIST, which was ratified by Congress before its Christmas break,” the industry group said in a statement.

While it appears that legislative schedule prevented lawmakers to quickly act on FIST transmittal, that the bill nonetheless remains pending would only lengthen the work needed to get the measure enforced once passed. Once enacted, the central bank, finance department, Bureau of Internal Revenue and Land Registration Authority would have 30 days to draft the law’s implementing rules.

That said, the law is not stopped from taking effect even without the rules, but some of its provisions like the establishment of FIST corporations would need approval from regulators, and therefore would likewise take more time. — with Prinz Magtulis

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