Congress leaders, Palace agree on priority measures

Published September 22, 2019, 12:18 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

Leaders of both houses of Congress and the Executive were one in pushing for the passage of measures seeking to increase the salary of civilian state workers, create the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), postpone the May 2020 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) polls, and grant free legal assistance to the members of the military.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez disclosed that during the recent third “regular monthly meeting” of the Legislative-Executive Coordinating Council (LECC), the Congress leaders and President Duterte’s Cabinet secretaries agreed to include the four measures in its initial list of common priority bills for inclusion in Chief Executive’s legislative agenda.

“Let’s wait [for] the official communication from the Palace about the final list of priority legislative measures it would be submitting to Congress. These are just the initial list. In the meantime, we agreed to pursue these as our common priority measures,” he said in a statement.

Included in the initial priority list are the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) 5 for civilian state workers, creation of the Department of OFWs, postponement of the May 2020 barangay and SK polls to May 2023, and free legal assistance to the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the House leader said.

He assured that the Lower Chamber would immediately act on the initial list of priority measures to grant “comfortable life for Filipinos.”

“Under the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, we are committed to expeditiously act on these measures. We will continue to work in harmony with the Senate and Cabinet members to pursue and realize President Duterte’s desire of ensuring a comfortable life for Filipinos,” he said.

He cited that on Friday night, the House of Representatives approved on second and third and final reading the proposed 2020 P4.1 trillion national budget in record time. House Bill No. (HB) 4228, or the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) is a priority measure of the Duterte administration.

“The House leaders will exhaust all means possible to make sure that the Executive and the Legislative departments are always in one direction with regard to the version of the priority and certified bills filed in the 18th Congress. We do not want to put to waste all the resources, time and effort, which are normally spent in passing bills,” he stressed.

He expressed the House leadership’s commitment to pass the identified priority measures before Congress adjourns this December.

“The SSL 5 shows the President’s sincere ‘malasakit’ to the plight of our civilian state workers. We will work very hard to ensure funding for their salary increase,” Romualdez said.

For his part, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said no additional tax measure will be imposed to fund the SSL 5.

“This is in line with President Duterte’s commitment to improve the life of our civilian state workers, including teachers and nurses. At the same time, this will result in their higher level of productivity to public service,” he said.

He maintained that the Lower Chamber is keeping its “tighter coordination” with Malacañang and the Senate to avoid even a single presidential veto of bills to be approved by the 18th Congress.

“This would smoothen the process and avoid the unfortunate experiences of having vetoed measures, especially those declared as priority measures by the Executive,” Romualdez said.

“We are eyeing zero veto for all bills to be approved by the Senate and the House. Hopefully, we can avoid any possibility of a Presidential veto by working closely with Cabinet members and Senate officials,” he said.

Aside from Romualdez, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte were present during the LECC meeting.

Their Senate counterparts who attended the meeting were Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Bong Go and Joel Villanueva.

Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III, Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III, and Acting Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado also joined the small group meeting.