What happened to priority bills from SONA 2013? Not much
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Since President Benigno Aquino III is expected to tell lawmakers on Monday, July 28, what he needs them to prioritize in the next year, Rappler checked on whether Congress, to begin with, acted on the needed legislation that the chief executive mentioned in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA).
In 2013, the President identified 11 laws that had to be reviewed and amended, and bills that must be passed
A year later, none of the bills have been enacted, and none of the amendments were finalized. Most of the bills filed are stuck at the committee level in both House of Representative and the Senate.
1. Proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law
In his 2013 SONA, the President specifically asked for the Congress to pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before the end of 2014 to give enough time for a plebiscite and the election of a Bangsamoro government by 2016.
Crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and based on the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro that was signed on March 27, 2014, the proposed law will create the Bangsamoro political entity, which shall have greater political and fiscal autonomy than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which it will replace.
The draft was completed and submitted to Malacañang for review in April but its submission to Congress – originally targetted before the opening of the session in July – has been delayed. There have been contention over the draft law's constitutionality and a plethora of unresolved issues between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on undisclosed provisions.
2. Cabotage law
Cabotage refers to shipping of goods and passengers within a country. In the Philippines, Republic Act 1937 governs tariff and customs and has provisions regarding the transportation of cargo within the country.
The President said that the cabotage law must be amended to foster competition and lower transportation costs for the agricultural sector and other industries.
In the House of Representatives, the latest bill to amend the cabotage law was filed by COOP-NATCCO Representative Cresente Paez in August 2013. House Bill 2623 seeks to allow more foreign investors, increase port revenues, expand employment opportunities, and produce more competitive services among local businesses. The bill is at the committee level.
In the Senate, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV filed Senate Bill 1359 in August 2013, seeking to allow foreign vessels to engage in coastwise trade in the country. The bill is pending at the committee level.
3. Fiscal incentives rationalization bill
Aquino also emphasized the need for a law that would rationalize the granting and administration of fiscal incentives to businesses, and provide accountability and clarity in doing this. The need for the bill became apparent in March 2014 when the Department of Finance reported that tax breaks provided under the current tax incentives system had caused the government to lose as much as P144 billion in 2011.
In the House of Representatives, HB 2765, 1788, 302, 130 – filed by Cebu Representative Gabriel Luigi Quisumbing, Rufus Rodriguez, Susan Yap, and Mark Villar, respectively – are with the committee of ways and means and the committee on trade and industry.
The latest Senate versions of the bill, SB 2048, 987, and 35 – filed by senators Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto, and Cynthia Villar, respectively – are at the committee level.
4. Land administration reform bill
To answer the need for convergence among agencies overseeing land holdings, and to ensure that they can efficiently fulfill their collective mandate, the President pushed Congress to focus on the land administration reform bill in his last SONA.
There are currently 3 versions of the bill in the House of Representatives filed in August and October: HB 1981, 2044, and 3109, seeking to create the Land Administration Authority. All bills have been referred to the government reorganization committee.
In the Senate, there are 5 Senate land administration reform bills filed between July and October 2013: SB 99, 431, 1041, 1682, and 1749, also seeking to create the LAA. These bills are at the committee level.
5. Presidential Decree 1113 and PD 1894
Issued by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1977, Presidential Decree 1113 granted the Philippine National Construction Corporation a franchise to construct, maintain, and operate toll facilities in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). In 1983, he issued PD 1894 to amend the franchise to include the Metro Manila Expressway.
Aquino asked Congress to review these decrees, as they were created then to favor Marcos cronies. "We are required to follow them: Whoever constructs infrastructure in those areas must be in partnership with the corporation of Mr. Marcos’ friend. Even worse: every time they add even just another short section to the original road, their franchise is extended by thirty years. That is not the end of it: Once the company profited, the development of infrastructure in the area was left unfinished."
Recently Malacañang met with the Department of Transportation and Communications to clear legal hurdles faced by the Metro Pacific Investments Corporation in building an NLEX-SLEX connecting road. The MPIC signed a joint venture with the PNCC in building a connecting expressway in January 2014.
In January, Quezon 3rd District Representative Aleta Suarez filed HB 03741, seeking to amend section 1 (b) of PD 1894, It is pending with the committee on Southern Tagalog development.
6. Presidential Decree 1638
In pursuit of a sustainable and fair mechanism for the pensions of the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Aquino asked for a review of PD 1638, which established an updated system of retirement and separation for military personnel in 1979.
Muntinlupa Representative Rodolfo Biazon filed HB 529 in July 2013, seeking to amend sections 3 and 17 of PD 1638, so that those who rendered civilian service before joining the AFP will be given the option to include or exclude their years of civilian service to their years of military service for purposes of retirement.
Another bill was filed by Quezon City, 2nd district Representative Winston Castelo on the same date, seeking to amend Section 25 so that children of soldiers or survivors who are medically certified to be mentally retarded will continue to receive derivative pension benefits even when they reach the age of 21 years.
Both house bills are pending with the committee on national defense and security.
In the Senate, SB 1596 and 1470 seek to amend PD 1638, while SB 574 seeks to reinstate the retirement benefits of expatriate retirees who have reacquired Filipino citizenship. The bills are at the committee level.
7. Republic Act 8551
Aquino also asked for a review of the pension mechanism for the Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel, asking Congress to review Republic Act 8551, which governed certain amendments on the reform and reorganization of the PNP in 1998.
To date, no bills have been filed to amend to the PNP’s pension mechanism.
In the House, there are 5 bills seeking to amend RA 8551 (HB 622, 2198, 2201, 2571, and 3376), and the Senate has SB 1871 – all at the committee level – but the amendments pertain to the National Police Commission, height and educational requirements for police applicants, the creation of an LGBT protection desk, and the strengthening of the People’s Law Enforcement Board.
8. SSS pension scheme
Aquino said in his last SONA that although there had been 21 across-the-board pension increases in the Social Security System (SSS) since 1980, increases in pension contributions happened only twice, leading to an estimated P1.1 trillion in unfunded liability.
The President cited a 2011 study showing that the SSS’s shortfall would increase 8% per annum, leading to the complete consumption of the fund 27 years from now. The President wanted measures established to remedy the outflow of funds, saying that if the contribution rate would be increased to 0.6%, the unfunded liability of the SSS would be reduced by P141 billion.
No bills increasing the SSS contribution rate were filed. In the House of Representatives, 7 bills were filed in relation to SSS pensions (HB 175, 316, 1544, 2052, 2550, 3851, and 4405), while 4 were filed in the Senate (SB 555, 1284, 1370, and 2258), but these do not concern remedying the SSS’s unfunded liability. They instead seek to increase pensions and other benefits, provisions for unemployment and involuntary separation benefits, reduction of retirement ages of certain workers, and penalties against employers failing to remit SSS contributions.
As part of anti-corruption efforts and in support of developing mechanisms to uphold integrity in the public service, Aquino called on Congress to examine the Civil Service Code and Presidential Decree 1.
The Civil Service Code, also known as RA 6713, prescribes conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees. PD 1, issued on September 21, 1972, led to the reorganization of the executive branch of the government.
There is no bill seeking to amend PD 1 in the House, but there are 4, filed between July 2 and November 13, 2013, seeking to amend the Civil Service Code: HB 936, 1005, 3296, and 3347. They are pending with the committee on civil service and professional regulation.
These 4 bills seek to impose stiffer penalties on public officials who refuse or neglect to act promptly on public personal transactions and communications; the centralized filing of Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth; the disclosure of and public access to SALNs; and other additional provisions to the Civil Service Code.
Senate has 4 bills on the Civil Service Code: SB 1397, 1163, 965, and 932. They seek to amend RA 6713, provide stiffer penalties on officials who fail or neglect to act promptly on public personal transactions, and to extend the prohibited period of employment of Cabinet members.
There are also House and Senate bills that seek to establish an entirely new law: The Civil Service Code of the Philippines. HB 2400 and SB,2012 and 117 are at the committee level. – Rappler.com
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, under the topic "Fiscal incentives rationalization bill," we reported that there was only one bill filed in the House of Representatives and 2 in the Senate. We have since updated the story to reflect 4 bills in the House and 3 in the Senate.