Busy recess ahead

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Session adjourned last week at the Philippine Congress, though this is no indication there will be work stoppage in perhaps the most of newsworthy branch of government as of late.

Former President and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave an adjournment speech that was by no means a commencement address to the members of the 17th Congress.

“Arroyo had to address the… recent budget impasse which she said to be perhaps the most closely scrutinized budget proposal in the last three decades.

The Speaker’s marching order for the House members was to continue working in this three-month recess, despite the scheduled midterm elections in May, keeping in mind that government work must continue and the people must be served through the passage of meaningful and lasting legislative bills. The Speaker, however, clarified that most of the work shall be done by the House members who are not running for any post or are running unopposed in May — a reasonable measure sympathetic to the constituents of our politicians.

In her adjournment speech, Speaker Arroyo congratulated the House members in passing the Bangsamoro Organic Law, signed into law on 27 July 2018, graciously acknowledging the past efforts by the previous House leadership under former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. The firm determination and social relevance of this law were evident in the conduct of the two recent plebiscites that pushed through amid the deadly bombings in Jolo and Zamboanga, clearly showing that Mindanaoans are resolute in achieving long-lasting peace and independence under the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Soon, members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be appointed by the President and we will all be witnesses to such a significant law coming into fruition.

As an economist, it is a no-brainer that Speaker Arroyo gives high importance to bills affecting the fiscal health of the country. Several hearings in the House were held to tackle TRAIN 2 or the TRABAHO bill, excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, real property valuation and capital income and financial taxes. The raising of government funds is integral in view of this administration’s push for infrastructure as part of its “Build, Build, Build” program. Making reference to her administration, the Speaker pointed out that her economic policies reduced poverty level from 39 percent to 26 percent which can be attributed to her fiscal reforms. By continuing ardent efforts on fiscal reform, the country is well on its way to achieving its goal of lowering poverty level to 14 percent in 2022.

Federalism was mentioned by the Speaker in her speech, describing it as a door to another world of exciting possibilities for the Philippines. This is proof that Federalism is not dead and is still in the pipeline of legislative priorities. Her take on the need for Federalism is of practical and economic importance. If I may quote directly, she said: “Our far-flung constituencies can petition, seek redress, obtain funds and conduct oversight on the government without going all the way to Manila. And where more of the State’s resources are kept and spent by the regions, for the regions and watched closely by the region’s inhabitants. Federalism is for the Filipino.” Thus, the thrust of Federalism under Resolution 15 is in line with that of the administration — to further decentralize “Imperial Manila” by allowing the federal states (to be created) to retain its funds for spending for and by its constituents.

During recess, oversight hearings shall be held pursuant to the legally mandated oversight functions of Congress. It is correct for the Speaker to repeatedly mention this most important role that Congress plays in ensuring the proper implementation of the laws passed.

Verily, those who know the true spirit behind the laws are the people who partook in its deliberations in the early stages of its passage.

Of course, Arroyo had to address the elephant in the room, which was the recent budget impasse which she said to be “perhaps the most closely scrutinized budget proposal in the last three decades since our present system was out in the 1987 Constitution.” She praised President Duterte for respecting the constitutional mandate of the House and Senate in the budget process. Notably, the President kept mum in the exchanges between leaders of Congress as these formed parts of the deliberative process that led to the eventual passage of the budget by both Houses on the last day of session. As stated by the Speaker, “The two bodies worked independently, in scrutinizing the budget. So, in the end, it is a joint achievement.”

Congress resumes session on 20 May, one week after the elections on 13 May and will last until 5 June, for a total nine regular session days. Normally, this would be a laid-back transition period, considering that elections have finished and a new set of legislators are set come in on 22 July.

Speaker Arroyo has other plans: To pass all bills pending, which shall include those passed on second reading in the House, those on third reading by the Senate, but still pending in the House and to remind the Senate to act on bills transmitted by the House. Other acts such as the ratification of reports from committees and bicameral conferences shall be done as well.

As such, we see a busy recess ahead, giving life of this House leadership’s tagline: #TheWorkingHousePH.

Email: darren.dejesus@house.gov.ph

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