Congress must guard people’s money in this pandemic

Published August 3, 2020, 1:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

In the national effort to meet the problems raised by COVID-19, Congress is moving to enact laws to help support the economy which has been badly hit by the pandemic.

A number of economic bills have thus been filed in Congress, some from the administration. The Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA) is the name of a bill that replaced the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities (TRABAHO). It is billed as the second package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) which became law in January, 2018.

There are new bills with similarly attractive acronyms – the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) and the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction and Education Stimulus (CURES).
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza and several other congressmen have stood up in Congress to raise questions about these bills which, they said, have no specific lists of projects and sources of funds. “Why would we be pouring trillions of pesos for unspecified infrastructure projects?,” he asked. Worse, he added, the trillions are yet to be borrowed.

The bills leave Congress with too much leeway in including projects that the congressmen want – in short, Atienza said, pork barrel by another name. He noted that the list of sponsors in both ARISE and CURES bills take up three pages, so the bills are bound to be approved.

There is hope, he said, that other factors will serve to rein in what may be an attempt to use adversity to generate political largesse. He recalled Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III’s comment on the second Bayanihan bill in the House appropriating ₱140 billion, that it was unfundable and may even be unconstitutional.

In a virtual press briefing on July 8, Secretary Domnguez disowned certain provisions in various economic bills in Congress. “These items definitely were inserted and did not emanate from the administration’s proposals,” he said.

The Philippine Competition Commission has also expressed concern over provisions in four bills that seek to do away with competition and procurement laws. While it recognizes that the bills’ goal is to hasten processes, there is need for deals to be scrutinized, lest certain favored firms abuse the market power they gained because of the pandemic and take advantage of consumers, it said.

Congressman Atienza is concerned about the bills now in Congress containing broad lists of infrastructure priorities without specific lists of sources of funds available. He called on his colleagues as well as the general public to be more vigilant, lest some people take advantage of the pandemic and run away with so much of the people’s money.