Do the Section 48
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2019 - 12:00am

True to his promise, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano delivered with dispatch the approval of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020. With 257 out of the 302 members of the House of Representatives voting in the affirmative, the National Expenditure Program for next year was approved on third and final reading last week. With only six negative votes from the minority bloc, the 18th Congress maybe is on track to its promised approval of the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) as scheduled.

Cayetano, along with House majority leader Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, ceremonially wrapped up their marathon sessions on the 2020 GAB last Friday night. To cap their accomplishment, Cayetano and Romualdez had their respective wives, Taguig City Congresswoman Lani Cayetano and Tingog Sinirangan party-list representative Yedda Romualdez posed together for a picture to capture the moment.

The 2020 budget bill is the first of the two budget bills that would be handled under Cayetano’s leadership at the Lower House under the Speakership term-sharing pact he forged with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco. Listed as House Bill 4228, it was billed as the quickest budget bill ever passed.

President Rodrigo Duterte submitted the 2020 GAB last Aug. 20. The Lower House started deliberations two days later. It took just over a week of individual committee hearings for all government agencies to defend their respective budgets for next year. Plenary debates followed and completed after two weeks. The voting took place three days after President Duterte certified last Tuesday the 2020 GAB as urgent.

The 2020 GAB will now be transmitted to the Senate which already began its own committee hearings on the budgets of each government agencies. By early next week, the three volumes of the 2020 GAB would be print-ready for turnover to enable the Senators to start their own plenary debate on it.   

Now that the 2020 GAB is done and over with, the Lower House will attend to the rest of priority bills that President Duterte spelled out during his state of the nation address (SONA) last July 22. Among these priority bills is the long pending proposal to grant emergency powers to President Duterte that will supposedly help address the crisis-proportion traffic in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized areas in the Philippines.

Metro Manila is the third worst in the region in terms of traffic having an average of 66 minutes or one hour and six minutes of being stuck in traffic daily based on a study of traffic among South East Asian (SEA) cities. The study conducted by global firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG), commissioned by ride-sharing platform Uber from September to October last year, covered around 300 respondents coming from the selected cities in the SEA region.

Based on the findings of this study, Metro Manila is next to Jakarta, Indonesia with average of 68-minute-long traffic. Bangkok in Thailand lived up to its notoriety as having the worst traffic where motorists can be stuck at an average of 72 minutes long in daily road gridlock.

On top of the average 66-minute daily delay in terms of traffic, drivers in Metro Manila must also spend an average of 24 minutes just to look for parking space. From the same BCG survey, 84% of Metro Manila respondents also indicated they plan to buy a car in the next five years. This early, there is already an indication that it is happening. Sales report from Autoindustriya showed, in fact, there were 97,375 vehicles sold so far in the first quarter of 2019.

Thus, brace for traffic gridlocks to worsen not only in Metro Manila but likely also for the rest of the highly urbanized areas in the Philippines.

The Lower House during the previous Congress approved the “Traffic Crisis Act of 2018” that was shepherded by then Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento as the chairman of the House committee on transportations. Among other things, the bill sought to authorize and designate the Department of Transportation (DOTr), headed by Secretary Arturo Tugade, as lead government agency to undertake infrastructure projects designed to enhance, if not alleviate, the flow and movement of traffic that have been hampering transport of goods and people. 

While waiting for the Senate approval of this bill, Tugade along with several Duterte Cabinet officials have been undertaking the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program all over the country. A number of these projects reportedly could not take off due to right-of-way problems and other legal and bureaucratic issues which the proposed emergency powers are supposed to eliminate. But the House-approved emergency powers got stalled when Tugade failed to convince the Senate committee on public services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe on the urgency of the proposed measure.

With his administration already on half way of its term, Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, who now chairs the House committee on transportations, believes it is not too late yet for the “Traffic Crisis Act” to be passed into law. Sarmiento told us during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum at Café Adriatico in Malate last Wednesday he would take off from the “Traffic Crisis Act of 2018” of his cousin who was the previous House chairman on transportations and reconcile this with 20 other similar House bills.

To expedite its approval, Sarmiento could invoke Section 48 of the House Rules that allows urgent bills that were previously filed in the immediately preceding Congress and have been approved on 3rd reading to be disposed of as matters already reported upon the approval of majority of the Members of the committee.

This was the same House Rule that Albay Rep. Joey Salceda invoked as chairman of the House committee on ways and means to fast-tracked the approval of the three out of four tax reform bills of the Duterte administration. The tax bills were now transmitted to the Senate.

Surely, Section 48 could cut time to approve into law the “Traffic Crisis Act” before the 18th Congress and President Duterte end their terms in June 2022.

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