Congressmen to senators: Stop spreading fake news on budget
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Allies of President Duterte in the House of Representatives have called on their colleagues in the Senate to stop making innuendos on the P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

Senators have been claiming that next year’s budget is loaded with pork barrel funds. 

“Our only collective request is that we avoid purveying ‘fake news’ and rumors during budget discussions. The discipline and parameters of our debates and statements on the budget are not only for the Senate, but also for the House,” Rep. Mike Defensor said. 

The former Quezon City congressman, who now represents party-list Anakalusugan, issued the call after the House transmitted the spending bill to the upper chamber last week before Congress went on a month-long break last Friday. 

“This way, intelligent and relevant discussions can be achieved by both chambers,” Defensor said.

He and Capiz Rep. Fred Castro had previously urged Sen. Panfilo Lacson to apologize for accusing lawmakers of allocating unto themselves “pork funds” when there were none. 

Lacson, an  anti-pork advocate, failed to substantiate his claims, Defensor said. 

The congressman lauded the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez for approving the General Appropriations Bill in record time as he joined them in calling for open, public and transparent debates on the budget. 

“The Speaker, Romualdez and House appropriations chairman Isidro Ungab (Davao City) together with the House leadership did a great job for the executive department in ensuring that this budget passes with no pork, no delay and no parking,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero of party-list 1Pacman said “it is unfair for some of their Senate counterparts to accuse them of defying a November 2013 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated post-enactment lump sums in the spending bill.” 

“We have worked really hard and even went double time in having this GAB approved so we can transmit it to them the soonest, but instead of being commended we are now being made the poster boys of pork barrel funds,” Romero said. 

‘Liberalize foreign investment’

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda is pushing for reforms in the country’s restrictive laws on foreign direct investment (FDI) to enable the country to perform at par with its Asian neighbors.

“We need to attract more foreign investors and help expand gross domestic products (GDP),” Salceda said. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the Philippines has one of the most restrictive laws on FDI among 10 ASEAN members and separately with 35 other countries in 2018.  

Salceda, who chairs the House ways and means committee, said the Duterte administration has recently achieved the “highest ever FDI percentage of GDP” in history, pushed by structural reforms and its Build Build Build program, but still lags behind Cambodia and Vietnam — both ravaged by wars over decades — due to its restrictive laws. 

The lawmaker has presented three bills pushing for amendments to the Public Service Act (House Bill 78) and the Foreign Investments Act (HB 1221), which he both authored, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which he co-authored, to help boost the country’s FDI performance.

Salceda said HB 78 seeks to “break the barriers to investments and competition in certain industry sectors such as power, energy and telecommunications that hamper the country’s economic expansion.”

On the other hand, HB 1221 or the Foreign Investments Act Amendments seeks to amend RA 7042 “deleting the provisions relating to ‘practice of professions’ from among the items listed under the Foreign Investment Negative List by lowering employment requirement to 15 employees for $100,000 investment in small and medium-sized domestic market industries.”

The Retail Trade Liberalization Act seeks to reduce the required minimum paid-up capital for foreign entrants to the country’s retail sector.   

Compared to Vietnam, liberalization effort in the Philippines has made improvements but is still not competitive enough, Salceda said.

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