Congress approved on Monday several significant measures including one declaring the maritime zones of the Philippines in order to establish the legal bases by which social, economic, commercial, and other activities may be conducted in those areas.
The House of Representatives in apparent rush of its legislative agenda, passed a number of bills as looking ahead to its adjournment sine die on May 31.
With an overwhelming 284 affirmative votes, the chamber ratified House Bill (HB) 7819 or the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which according to Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez “will provide flexibility in enacting laws pertinent to the rights and obligations that the Philippines can exercise over its maritime zone.”
“Aside from this, the bill also provides sovereign rights over these maritime zones, thus establishing the Philippines’ exclusive rights to explore and exploit living and nonliving resources found in these
zones, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other existing laws and treaties,” Romualdez said.
Under HB 7819, the country’s maritime zones comprise the internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf.
These were defined in the measure which also requires all territories of the Philippines to generate their respective maritime zones in accordance with international law.
The bill likewise provides for the exercise of jurisdiction over these zones with regard to rights and duties provided for in the UNCLOS. It stated that Philippine rights relative to its maritime zones and entitlements shall be exercised in accordance with the UNCLOS, and the awards rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal in Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Case 23 No. 2013-19, in the matter of the South China Sea Arbitration between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, handed down on July 12, 2016, at The Hague.
The proposed Philippine Salt Industry Development Act also hurdled House scrutiny with an overwhelming 287 votes.
HB 8278, or the proposed Philippine Salt Industry Development Act aims to revitalize the Philippine salt industry, creating for this purpose a comprehensive development plan that would benefit the industry players.
The measure is listed by the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) as one of the priority legislations of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“The significance of the salt industry hasn’t been lost on our President and concurrent Department of Agriculture (DA) chief Ferdinand Marcos Jr. He knows that we need to correct the sad irony that the country imports nearly 550,000 metric tons (MT) or 93 percent of its requirement for salt. This is indeed a sin,” Romualdez said.
The proposed law has been described by its authors as a whole-of-nation, whole-of-society, and whole-of-government approach as it seeks to revitalize the salt industry.
Under the measure, salt–whether unprocessed or processed, is classified as a basic agricultural product with all its necessary legal and regulatory implications.
“The DA shall also ensure that salt is a priority commodity to be produced locally in areas or regions identified in this Act, as well as in the development plan for the salt industry,” the bill read.
A key provision under HB.8278 creates the Philippine Salt Industry Development Council (PSIDC), which seeks to ensure the unified and integrated implementation of the roadmap and accelerate the modernization and industrialization of the Philippine salt industry.
The PSIDC is tasked to formulate the Philippine Salt Industry Development Roadmap containing the short-term, medium-term, and long-term development plan. It will also identify specific and priority programs and projects in support of, and in line with the Roadmap.
It will also provide development funds, technical assistance, and equipment to salt farmers and the industry. The support shall be commensurate to the size of the salt farm.
Through the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the PSIDC will put up new small scale artisanal salt farms.
The council will identity sources of financing and facilitate credit windows with government banks and the Agricultural Credit Policy Council to expand the salt industry development.
Also, it will endeavor to increase production of local salt by increasing land area devoted to salt and improving farm productivity, as well as to institutionalized capacity building for salt farmers through the Agricultural Training Institute.
It seeks to strengthen market linkage and promotion of Philippine salt and conduct continuing research and development (R&D) on innovation and modernization of the salt industry.
It aims to establish an Agri Insurance Program for salt producers, as well as parameters and guidelines when domestically-produced salt may be subjected to mandatory salt iodization under the provisions of
Republic Act (RA) No. 8172, otherwise known as “An Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN)”.
The House also passed HB 8144 which aims to update the Tax Code “to deter schemes that defraud the government of billions of pesos in taxes that are the lifeblood of the nation and which could otherwise be used for the benefit of our people.”
With an overwhelming 276 affirmative votes, the House passed on third and final reading the bill defining the new crime of tax racketeering and imposing heavy penalties on offenders.
HB 8144 defines tax racketeering as a crime perpetrated by “any person who engages in any coordinated scheme or operation to evade or defeat any tax imposed under this Code through the fraudulent use of receipts, returns, and other records, with a minimum amount of P10 million in taxes evaded.”
In addition to other penalties provided by law, the offender would suffer 17 years to 20 years imprisonment. Conviction or acquittal would not prevent the filing of a civil suit for the collection of taxes.
If the violator is a corporation, nongovernment organization, association, cooperative or single proprietorship, the penalty shall be imposed on its officers or employees and individuals without whose participation the violation could not have been committed.
Accomplishes or persons who cooperate in the commission of the offense shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, suffer imprisonment of 10 years to 17 years.
Persons who, having knowledge of tax racketeering, take part subsequent to its commission, including profiting from it, shall suffer imprisonment of six years to 10 years.
Any public officer who aids and abets the commission of tax racketeering shall face perpetual disqualification from public office.
The bill also increases the penalties on offenders who “willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed under this Code, of knowingly distributes, acquires, uses or aids in the use of unauthorized, fake or falsified revenue official receipts, sales invoices, commercial invoices, letters of authority, tax debit memoranda and other accountable forms.”
The crime imposes a fine of P5 million to P10 million (up from P50,000 to P100,000 under the present law) and imprisonment of six years to 10 years (increased from two years but not more than six years).
In the offender is a certified public accountant, his professional license shall be revoked upon conviction. It he is a foreigner, he shall be immediately deported after serving his sentence.
The House also unanimously approved HB 7754, which amends Sec. 43 of Presidential Decree No. 705 or the “Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.”
The bill proposes to reforest and rehabilitate fishponds that have been abandoned or unutilized for three years.
The main objective of HB 7754 is to expedite the reversion of unutilized or abandoned fishponds to forest lands so that these can be “immediately rehabilitated and reforested,” as required under the measure.
It also mandates the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to jointly set guidelines in the determination and rehabilitation of abandoned, undeveloped or underutilized fishponds covered by Fishpond Lease Agreements.
Similarly, the House voted 283-3-0 to a measure that encourages social responsibility in the private
corporate sector by providing them with fiscal benefits when they engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects and programs in communities.
HB 451 or the “Corporate Social Responsibility Act,” which is a consolidation of six similar measures filed by several lawmakers: Hbs 800, 1001, 2699, 3627, 4139 and 6131.
According to HB 451, the State recognizes the vital role of the private sector in nation-building and shall “encourage its active participation in fostering sustainable economic development and environment protection in the Philippines.”
“Towards this end, the government shall mobilize its various agencies, in coordination with nongovernment and people’s organizations, to work hand-in-hand for the integration, promotion, and strengthening of corporate social responsibility in all business organizations,” it read.
The main objective of the bill is to foster sustainable economic development and environmental protection by encouraging corporations to inculcate the value of social responsibility in community development in their organization’s operations and activities, whether they are single proprietorships, partnerships or corporations.
For starters, among the benefits provided in the measure to encourage CSR among corporations is that it allows stock corporations to retain profits in excess of 100% of paid-in capital stock to be used for expansion or corporate social responsibility projects or programs.
HB 451 also defined CSR as referring “to the commitment of business to contribute on a voluntary basis to sustainable economic development by working with relevant stakeholders to improve their lives in ways that are good for business, sustainable development agenda and society at large.”
HB 198 or the “Revised Warehouse Receipts Law of the Philippines” was also approved on final reading by 287 votes.
The bill seeks to promote economic activity by increasing access – particularly for entities engaged in agricultural activities such as farming – to the least cost of credit through the establishment of a simplified, unified and modern warehouse receipts framework for the storage of goods in warehouses and the succeeding trading of interests therein.
The existing law prescribes a relatively simple way for farmers or agricultural workers to secure credit by storing their goods in a warehouse and trading the receipt thereof. HB 198 takes advantage of modern technological advancement to establish a system that is more secure, reliable and functional for the parties involved.
Among its key provisions include the establishment of a central electronic registry under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for all warehouse receipts that should be made available online. This, according to the principal authors of the measure, will guarantee a faster and simpler way for farmers and agricultural entities to convert goods and products into credit.
It also provides that warehouse receipts may only be issued by a duly authorized warehouse operator and that the warehouse receipt must contain certain details such as the location of the warehouse, date of issue, description of the goods contained and others.
The SEC is also designated as the regulatory agency governing all matters related to warehouse receipts, including the accreditation of warehouse operators and warehouses.
HB 198 also defines and distinguishes what constitutes as a negotiable and non-negotiable receipt.
The House also passed a bill that will establish in San Fernando, Pampanga a Level III hospital which will offer comprehensive health services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), their legal dependents, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) contributors, and the general public.
With an overwhelming 255 affirmative votes, the chamber approved on third and final reading HB 8325 or the proposed Overseas Filipino Workers Hospital Act which seeks to create an OFW Hospital (OFWH) under the direct supervision and control of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).
HB 8325 mandates the OFWH to serve as a referral facility for repatriated OFWs needing medical assistance and support while ensuring its participation in the provincial and inter-regional healthcare provider networks to allow for a seamless and coordinated referral system for the medical repatriation program in accordance with Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act.
The OFWH, once enacted into law, will provide 24/7 telehealth services to migrant workers and their families, provide pre-employment medical examination for OFWs, strengthen health surveillance through the provision of a post-employment or post-arrival medical examination for OFWs, and assist and support universities, research institutions, and other hospitals or medical facilities in their studies on health-related concerns of OFWs.
The proposed legislation also requires the OFWH to promote, encourage, engage in, and publish scientific research on the prevention, care, and treatment of occupational diseases common to OFWs, and establish training programs for medical and allied medical professionals which shall focus on strengthening occupational and migrant health services in the country and the creation of specialized services.
Passed also was HB 8204 which tasks the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), to lead the monitoring and overall implementation of the proposed legislation. The bill was on final reading by a 268 vote.
Under HB 8204, the DENR will develop a National Peatland Conservation and Restoration Program to provide direction, support, and guidance to the LGUs and stakeholders in the development and implementation of their local peatland conservation and restoration programs.
The Program will include a mapping of peatlands in the country, and assessment of vulnerability to climate change and disaster risk management, among others.
The bill also mandates the municipal, city, or provincial LGUs having territorial jurisdiction over the peatland to prioritize its protection under Republic Act (RA) No. 7586 or the “National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992”, as amended by RA No. 11038, declaration as Critical Habitat under RA No. 9147 or the “Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act”, or as local conservation area or other effective area-based conservation measures through ordinances.
The proposed law requires that peatlands classified as agricultural lands will be reclassified to either forest lands or national parks, upon DENR’s recommendation.
The bill also prohibits the drainage, deforestation, clearing, dumping of waste, and introduction of invasive alien species in peatlands.
Section 12 of the bill imposes a fine of at least P200,000 or at least a six-month imprisonment, or both, against violators.