By Charissa Luci-Atienza
2018 saw the House of Representatives pass more than 400 measures.
Since the third session of the 17th Congress opened in July this year under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the House of Representatives has processed about 1,361 bills, 492 of which have been approved.
Of the 492 approved measures, 95 were passed into law and 39 are ready for the President’s signature, according to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“We have processed an average of 33 measures per day,” she said during her plenary speech before the Congress’ adjournment of its session on December 12.
Of the approved bills, 27 were ratified Bicameral reports, 25 were pending at the bicameral conference committee, 22 were approved on second reading, and 38 approved resolutions.
“Shortly after I assumed the speakership, I told my colleagues that my goal is to implement the Legislative Agenda of President Duterte. And you have seen in the Legislative that the House has prioritized these past six months with the priority bill announced by the President in his 2018 State-of-the-Nation Address,” Arroyo said.
She noted that the House already passed the President’s entire legislative agenda as he announced in his 2018 State-of-the-Nation Address. “My concern is not my legacy as Speaker. My concern is to support President Duterte’s legacy in the year that I have as Speaker,” Arroyo said.
Before Congress adjourned for a month-long Christmas break, the 291-man Lower Chamber passed the priority measures of the administration, which include the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 15 or the draft federal charter, the proposed Traffic Crisis Act, the tax reform packages, and the proposed Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).
Extension of martial law in Mindanao
The House, in a joint session with the Senate also approved on December 12 President Duterte’s request to extend martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.
After more than three hours of deliberations, a total of 235 members of Congress voted in favor of the martial law extension, while 28 thumbed it down and only one abstained. The Senate voted 12-5 with one abstention, while House of Representatives voted 223-23.
‘Reconsider the appointment’
The Lower Chamber also adopted House Resolution No. 2365 urging President Duterte to “reconsider the appointment” of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
According to the resolution, authored by Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, Diokno failed to explain “how one sole proprietorship construction company was able to obtain numerous projects from the government in Sorsogon, amounting to billions of pesos.”
A day before the adjournment , RBH 15, principally authored by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was passed by the chamber. It calls for a presidential-bicameral-federal system of government and removal of the term limits for lawmakers.
RBH 15 proposes the adoption of a bicameral Legislature wherein the House shall be composed of no more than 300 members and the Senate shall be composed of 24 Senators.
RBH 15 mandates that the President and Vice President maintain the same powers and functions as that of the 1987 Constitution. It provides that a vote for the President shall also be a vote for the Vice President and the President and Vice President must be from the same party. Their term of service under the draft constitution is also limited to four years with one year for re-election.
Traffic Crisis Act
House Bill 6425, or the “Traffic Crisis Act of 2018. Makiisa. Makisama. Magkaisa”, which designates the Secretary of the Department of Transportation as the Traffic Chief, also hurdled the chamber. The bill, which is among the priority measures identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), mandates the development within three years a comprehensive framework to address traffic congestion in Metropolitan Manila, Metropolitan Cebu and Davao City.
In September this year, the chamber approved House Bill 8083, also known as the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities (TRABAHO) bill or the second package of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), which seeks to lower the corporate income tax rates and rationalize fiscal incentives.
It provides for two-percent cuts in the corporate income tax every two years from January 1, 2021 to January 1, 2029.
The package 3 of the CTRP or House Bill 8453 also hurdled the Lower Chamber. The bill seeks to institute reforms in real property valuation and assessment and calls for the reorganization of the Bureau of the Local Government Finance.
In December, the Lower Chamber also expeditiously approved the three remaining tax packages of the CTRP. These include House Bill 8645 or proposed Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act,which is the fourth package of the CTRP. The measure seeks equitable, simpler and more efficient taxation of passive income and financial transactions.
Excise tax on tobacco, alcohol products
The House also approved bills seeking to increase the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products. HB 8677, which proposes to impose additional P2.50 excise tax on tobacco products starting July 2019, was approved on final reading.
House Bill 8618, which was passed on third and final reading, will raise excise tax on alcohol products by P6.60. It provides that starting January 2019, an ad valorem rate of 22 percent including specific tax rates per proof liter of P30, P35, P40, P45 from 2019 to 2022 will be imposed on distilled spirits; and it will be increased by 7 percent annually starting 2023.
The House also approved House Bill 8400 which seeks to rationalize and institute a single fiscal regime applicable to all mineral agreements. The bill mandates mining contractors of large-scale metallic and non-metallic mining operations outside of mineral reservations to pay to the government a margin-based royalty on income from mining operations.
Department of Disaster Resilience
The House also approved a measure creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), which is a legislative priority of the Duterte administration.
House Bill 8165, principally authored by Leyte Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, tasks the DDR to serve as “the primary government agency responsible for leading, organizing and managing the national effort to reduce disaster risk, prepare for, and respond to disasters, recover and rehabilitate, and build forward better after the occurrence of disasters.”
Bangsamoro Basic Law
This year also saw the passage of House Bill 6475 or the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was signed into law by President Duterte in July.
Officially called as the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM), the BOL seeks the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region which replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The measure was principally authored by former Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon D. Alvarez.
Pro-women measures, including the proposed 100-Day Maternity Leave Law and the proposed “Expanded Anti-Sexual Harassment Act” also got the nod of the House of Representatives.
House Bill 4113 or the proposed 100-Day Maternity Leave Law benefits both government and private sector employees.
On October 3, the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bill granting 105 days of paid maternity leave to all working mothers. The Expanded Maternity Leave Act of 2018, which provides that a total of 7 out of the 105 days of leave may be transferred to fathers, is now awaiting the President’s signature.
Anti-Sexual Harassment Act
House Bill 8244 or the proposed “Expanded Anti-Sexual Harassment Act” seeks to impose graver punishment on individuals committing sexual harassment. Violators shall be slapped with a penalty of imprisonment of one to six months, or a fine of P50,000 to P200,000, or both, at the discretion of the court.
Among the national bills approved on third reading are : HB 7773, “Institutionalizing the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to Reduce Poverty and Promote Human Capital Development”; “HB 8014, “Mandatory PhilHealth Coverage of All Persons with Disability”; HB 7735, “Replacing the Quantitative Import Restrictions on Rice with Tariffs and Creating the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund”; HB 7437, “Prohibiting the Privatization and Corporatization of Public Hospitals, Pubic Facilities and Health Services”; HB 7373, “Green Building Act”; HB 7544, “Declaring the Last Monday of January of Every Year A Special Working Holiday in Observance of “National Bible Day”; HB 7749, “National Youth Day Act”; HB 8139, “Tulong-Trabaho Act”; and HB 7774, “Bill of Rights of Taxi, Tourist Car Transport Service and Vehicle for Hire Passengers.”
Good policy framework
Speaker Arroyo cited that the country already has a good policy framework in place, supported by good legislation.
“There will always be room for making new policy and legislation. And next year, we will be able to attend to your pet bills,” she said.
“But on the whole, I think it’s time to pivot from mere policies to implementation. We must harness the results during the final three and a half years of President Duterte’s term,” Arroyo said.
She said next year, the Lower Chamber is expected to fully assert its oversight functions.
“For the remaining months of the 17th Congress, I ask the House to be prepared to give the implementing departments and agencies the support that they may need to the extent that make this pivot from policy to action, such as by way of House Resolutions from us, the elective representatives of the people, or through the helpful exercise of House oversight functions,” she said.
“Next year, expect the oversight committees to be very active in the next months or so,” she said.