Congress inches toward federalism, tax reform

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CONGRESS may have only passed two proposed measures that were enacted into law, but it was able to start the ball rolling on Charter change and other major items on the administration’s legislative agenda.

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President Rodrigo Duterte, during his first State of the National Address (SONA), mentioned some of his priorities which he wants Congress to pass, including measures on federalism, tax reform, freedom of information, and to grant him emergency powers to address the traffic problem.

During the first six months of the 17th Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives started studying proposals on the shift to a federal form of government and the plans to lift caps on foreign ownership in Philippine companies.

In the Upper House, a resolution was filed by Sen. Richard Gordon proposing amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution, in order to provide flexibility and allow the Philippines to properly adapt to the changing global economy.

House of Representatives, Quezon City

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes also started its hearings on the proposals to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution, which would pave the way for the change from unitary system to federal form of government.

While some senators and other sectors prefer constitutional convention (Con-Con) to change the Constitution, there is an emerging consensus that favors constituent assembly (Con-Ass), where incumbent senators and congressmen will be doing the revisions.

The Senate committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, chaired by Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, is expected to go on full blast with its hearings on proposed charter change during the first quarter of 2017. The hearings will be conducted in different places nationwide.

Tax Reform
The chamber, particularly the Senate ways and means committee chaired by Juan Edgardo Angara, also started tackling proposals that seek to lower personal income tax by adjusting the current income tax bracket. Senate bill 129 seeks to exempt workers earning below P70,000 per annum or P14,000 monthly from paying taxes, dissolving the first three brackets under the present tax code.

Those earning P20,000 to P30,000 monthly will move to a lower bracket and will be taxed from the current 25 percent to 20 percent. The lower tax rates will result in higher take-home pay, with savings from tax of more than P10,000 a year.

The top tax bracket, on the other hand, will be increased from an annual taxable income of P500,000 or approximately P60,000 monthly gross income to P1.25 million annual income or those earning more than P100,000 a month. Angara’s committee is also reviewing SB 169 or the small business tax reform act that would provide small businesses with lower income tax rate, a simplified process, and other privileges to stimulate their growth.

Emergency powers, FOI
The Senate has acted on Duterte’s request for emergency powers to address the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized cities in the country. Plenary deliberations are expected to begin once congress resumes it session by mid-January.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, already sponsored SB 1284 or the emergency powers bill that authorizes the President, through his appointed Traffic Crisis Manager, to use alternative methods of procurement to speed up the implementation of key transportation projects. These methods include selective bidding, direct contracting, negotiated procurement, and other modes under existing laws

Metro Manila and cities near the capital and Metro Cebu will be covered by emergency powers. The Traffic Crisis Manager may also implement systems and mechanisms in other areas such as Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and other highly urbanized cities and municipalities that are suffering from a land traffic crisis based on an existing master transportation plan specific to those areas.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which is also a priority of the Duterte administration, has also been introduced in plenary as early as October. The Senate version of FOI, however, will not only cover the executive branch but also the judiciary and the legislature.

Also, SB 159 includes not just administrative but also criminal liabilities to public and private individuals who could be found violating the provisions stated in the FOI bill.

Senators, since the opening of the 17th Congress, have filed a total of 1,283 bills, 55 of which were acted upon. There were also 253 resolutions filed, 33 of which were acted upon while four joint resolutions were filed but have not been tackled yet by the chamber.

Two proposed measures passed by Congress were enacted into law, namely, the postponement of the Barangay and Sanguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to Oct. 31, and the P3.35-trillion national budget for 2017.

The Senate also adopted 33 resolutions, most noteworthy of which is SR 33, concurring in the ratification of the Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This would provide the government access to more sources of funding seen to usher in a golden age of infrastructure for the Philippines.

It will also accelerate the Philippines’ annual infrastructure spending to account for 5 percent of GDP, and improve competitiveness through better infrastructure facilities that will attract investments into the country.

The Senate is expected to be very busy in with the legislative process this year, and will work for the passage of the priority bills that would benefit the country and its people.

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