DESCRIBING 2022 as “a crucial year for our country,” leaders of the House of Representatives are one in saying that the economic measures they approved as well as the P5.024-trillion proposed national budget they passed are the key potent weapons government could use to deal with the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the government is trying to finish its fight against the spread of Covid-19, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said that the bills they passed this year would help the country navigate, and even emerge stronger from the contagion.

“If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown us, it is that we are stronger than we knew. We are more capable than we realized. We have seen that there is more that unites us than divides us. We have seen that our legislative work is vital to our pandemic response.”—House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco

Passage of the proposed P5.024-trillion General Appropriations Act for next year capped the chamber’s month-long effort to craft policies needed to shepherd the country towards recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

“This budget offers hope, opportunity and economic security for our kababayans as we tread on the path to recovery in 2022,” Velasco said.

The Speaker said the spending plan provided Congress the “single greatest opportunity” to shape the country’s priority for next year as Covid-19 drags on.

The ratified national budget for fiscal year 2022 includes a P50-billion fund for booster shots and another P50 billion for health workers’ special risk allowance (SRA).

The 2022 national budget also includes P32 billion for state universities and colleges to help these prepare for the resumption of face-to-face classes.

“This is our harvest of legislation for 2021 so far,” Velasco said.

The House adjourned its session to go on a one-month legislative break for the holidays. Regular sessions will resume on January 17, 2022.

As of December 14, the House approved 133 Republic Acts and expected more measures will be signed into law by President Duterte before the year ends, including the proposed 2022 General Appropriations Act.

The chamber also approved 930 measures on third reading, and adopted 266 resolutions.

Velasco said the House leadership was also proud to have “instituted reforms, revised plans, and implemented programs to ensure the health and safety of everyone as we keep the legislative mill running.”

The Speaker pointed out, “If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown us, it is that we are stronger than we knew.

“We are more capable than we realized. We have seen that there is more that unites us than divides us. We have seen that our legislative work is vital to our pandemic response.”

Crucial reforms

HOUSE Economic Recovery Cluster Co-Chairman and Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the passage of amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Foreign Investments Act (FIA), and the Public Service Act are “crucial reforms” to boost the country’s bid for more foreign direct investments.

The amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act and the Foreign Investments Act measures are now awaiting the President’s signature, while the Public Service Act is now pending before the bicameral conference committee.

“There are three key elements to the decision to invest: the constraints, the risks and the potentials. On constraints, the questions are: “Is the door open in the first place? What can keep the investor from investing more?” On risks: How secure is the investment? What can keep the investment from making a return? Finally, on potential: What’s in it for the investor? Does the upside or the margin justify the investment?” said Salceda.

“We addressed the upside with the CREATE Law, but we still need to address constraints through the liberalization bills,” said Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means committee.

Under the amended FIA, foreign professionals will now be encouraged to come to the country to share their knowledge, expertise, skills and technical know-how and allow Filipinos to broaden and enhance their competitiveness in both domestic and international labor markets.

The bill also allowed start-ups and start-up enablers endorsed by lead host agencies pursuant to RA 11337 to be funded by foreigners with a minimum capital of P100,000 to encourage investments that will pioneer in the country.

Deputy Speaker for Trade and Industry Wes Gatchalian and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo both expressed a conviction that the recent ratification of the bill amending the Retail Trade Liberalization (RTL) Act will help the country’s economic recovery amid the pandemic as it could bring more foreign investments.

The approved RTL amendments lower this paid-up capital threshold substantially, and now allow foreign retail investors to participate in the local retail market with a P25-million paid-up investment, and a minimum requirement of P10 million per store.

Meanwhile, the bill amending the 85-year-old Public Services Act provides a clearer definition of the terms “public services” and “public utilities” in the existing law.

In the 1987 Constitution, only corporations that are at least 60 percent owned by Filipinos shall be given the franchise, certificate and authorization to operate as a public utility.

Images courtesy of Lisa Marie David/Pool Photo via AP and AP/Aaron Favila