Continuing the momentum of reforms

Published January 6, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

J. Albert Gamboa
J. Albert Gamboa

The 2020 national budget that was just signed by President Rodrigo Duterte is in line with the government’s vision for inclusive economic growth, aimed at making the lives of 105 million Filipinos more comfortable.

This time the passage of the general appropriations law was stalled for less than a week, unlike last year when bickering between the two chambers of Congress caused three and a half months of delay in the budget signing.

As a result of that budget impasse, the country’s GDP growth suffered in the first two quarters of 2019. Subsequently, the national government was forced to operate on a reacted 2018 budget from January 1 to April 15, 2019.

Legislative proposals relating to appropriations and taxation emanate from the House of Representatives for transmittal to the Senate after thorough deliberations. Under the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the 2020 national budget was passed in record time last September, along with several priority bills certified as urgent by Malacanang.

Among the approved legislations lined up for the President’s signature are tax reform acts imposing higher excise taxes on tobacco, e-cigarettes, and alcohol products. These measures will provide the additional funding needed to properly implement the government’s Universal Health Care program that will primarily benefit low-income families while at the same time discouraging binge drinking and smoking.

Still pending with the Senate are three bills passed by the House of Representatives four months ago: the amendments to the Foreign Investments Act; the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act, which aims to make the Philippines more attractive to investors; and the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act simplifying the tax system in the financial sector.

Since the start of the 18th Congress last July, there has been a renewed sense of trust and confidence in the House of Representatives as an institution. According to recent quarterly surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia, Cayetano has been getting unprecedented marks from the public, including an 80% performance rating in December which is a historic high for any House Speaker.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said: “The timely approval of the 2020 national budget that is pork-free and without any parked funds is among the most notable achievements of the House during Cayetano’s first six months as Speaker.”
Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero cited the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience as another House achievement, while Antipolo Rep. Roberto Puno believes that “Cayetano has helped restore the image of the House as a responsible and reliable legislative body.”
And to think that during the speakership race last year, Cayetano started out with the weakest support compared to the two other candidates but has now gained popularity among his peers and the general public.

There’s a proverb attributed to US President Abraham Lincoln that goes: “It is not best to swap horses while crossing streams.” This was further refined by another American President, then three-termer Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who stated during his third reelection campaign at the peak of World War II: “Don’t change horses in midstream.”

It seems that this saying is applicable to the Philippines’ executive and legislative leaderships nowadays. The tandem of President Duterte and Speaker Cayetano has turned out to be an effective partnership in implementing the reforms they advocated as running mates in the 2016 elections.

Deputy Speaker Puno advised his fellow legislators: “If we want to sustain this momentum of accomplishments that has earned the House the respect of the public, then we can all agree that keeping Alan as Speaker is the best way to do it.”

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