“What is regional development in a concrete sense?”
In five months, the three-year term of the members of the House of Representatives will end, including those elected through the party-list system of representation. Among the party-list groups sitting in the 18th Congress is Tingog Party-List, currently represented by Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez. Despite the uncertainty and challenges caused by the pandemic, Tingog Party-List has worked hard and successfully delivered on its promise to its constituents from within and outside Eastern Visayas.
The name of the party-list group, “tingog” which means “voice” or “tinig” in Filipino, echoes clearly the mission that it has embraced for itself – to be the voice of the people of Eastern Visayas and a champion for regional development. Becoming the voice of its people points out to its core regional constituency, after all Tingog Party-List started as a regional political party based in the islands of Leyte, Samar and Biliran. But championing regional development brings to the fore its commitment to help local communities in the regional countryside achieve progress and prosperity.
How does Tingog Party-List envision regional development in the concrete sense? What it has done so far as to make it happen?
When Tingog Party-List ran for Congress in 2019, it pushed a four-point development agenda – first, higher family incomes; second, increased social services; third, innovative and proactive governance and fourth, sustained economic growth.
Each of this four-point agenda included concrete indicators, by which the party-list group and its constituents alike would measure its accomplishments.
In terms of higher family incomes, for example, Tingog Party-List identified three indicators: more industries, more jobs; sustainable support for SMEs; and increased farm and agribusiness output. These priorities were drawn from the actual socioeconomic situation in Eastern Visayas. In a region where close to a third of the population live below the poverty line, and struggle to put food on the table, increasing family incomes is an important economic priority.
Industrialization, of course, is a reliable engine for jobs generation. Unknown to many, one of the first industrial parks in the country, the Leyte Industrial Development Estate, can be found on the western part of Leyte island. However, its overall economic benefits in terms of jobs creation and economic productivity, though, have yet to be fully realized. To this end, Tingog Party-List championed the passage of House Bill 6489 which proposes the creation of the Leyte Ecological Industrial Zone (LEIZ), an economic growth triangle composed of three production and processing centers: Isabel where LIDE is located; Baybay City along the west coast facing Cebu City and the regional center Tacloban City. A feasibility study prepared by Palafox and Associates concluded that such an undertaking would not only increase direct investments but actually generate tens of thousands of jobs, which would of course result in higher family incomes for many households in the region. House Bill 6489 was passed by the House of Representatives in 2020, and is now awaiting Senate approval, before it finally becomes a law.
Enhancing social services is second on Tingog’s development agenda. Three indicators have been identified: free ALS and TVET education, quality and accessible healthcare services and stronger conditional cash transfer.
Tingog Party-List worked hard to deliver on improving the quality of social services in the region. Three key healthcare-related legislation were filed by the party-list group and all three were eventually approved by Congress. Two were already passed into law: Republic Act 11567 which increased the capacity of Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center from 500 to 1,500 beds, making it one of the largest healthcare facilities in the country today, as well as Republic Act 11566, converting the Schistosomiasis Hospital in Palo, Leyte into a general hospital and increasing its capacity from 25 to 100 beds. These two laws will contribute significantly in closing the gap in the hospital bed to population ratio in the region.
The third legislation, House Bill 8195, presents a durable solution to a long overdue healthcare problem in the island of Samar. Until today, there is no government tertiary hospital in the entire island, requiring patients and their families to travel to as long as six hours just to get the needed medical service. True to its campaign promise, Tingog Party-List worked hard to push for the establishment of the 300 bed Samar Island Medical Center, which was approved by the Senate on third reading just a week ago. Tingog Party-List is confident that the measure will be signed into law by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, and thus making quality healthcare more accessible and affordable to the people of Samar.
The Alternative Learning System is one of Tingog’s key advocacies and in 2020, the first of its proposed legislative measures was enacted into law as Republic Act 11510, otherwise known as the Alternative Learning System Act. Through this law, additional funds and other resources, including the provision of plantilla positions for mobile teachers will be guaranteed thus strengthening the role of alternative learning as the “other lung” of our educational system.
Tingog’s commitment to strengthen governance, the third point in its development agenda, is best reflected in its other priority measures. The most important of which is House Bill 5989, which proposes the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience. In fact, Rep. Romualdez chaired the technical working group which prepared the final version of the bill in the lower house. Rep. Romualdez was also among the principal authors and sponsors of Republic Act 11463, the Malasakit Center Act; Republic Act 11589, the BFP Modernization Act; and Republic Act 11641, the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act.
As chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children, Rep. Yedda Romualdez also championed the passage of several landmark child protection legislation into law: Republic Act 11642 which introduced an administrative to replace the current judicial process for domestic adoptions and Republic Act 11596 prohibiting child marriages in the country. Presently awaiting the president’s signature are House Bill 0135 which imposed stiffer penalties on child abuse, abuse and discrimination; House Bill 7836 which increases the age for sexual consent and determining statutory rape; House Bill 7679 which ensures to protect the rights of deserted and abandoned children; House Bill 10658 which introduces stronger child protection provisions to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and House Bill 10703 which seeks to prohibit both offline and online sexual exploitation of children.
The fourth in its development agenda, sustained economic growth, may take more than just one term in Congress, but Tingog nonetheless took small but sure steps to accomplish it. It spearheaded efforts for the creation of Eastern Visayas Development Authority (EVDA) by authoring House Bill 6869. The measure, envisioned to establish a regional body tasked to oversee and manage regional development projects from the perspective of “economic devolution” and “regional economic development”, was approved in the House of Representatives on third reading. Tingog also supported the passage of several pieces of legislation related to the coronavirus pandemic, notably the Bayanihan to Rise As One Act.
In addition to its legislative action, it has also successfully implemented several social services and programs, among them its medical and other social assistance programs, its college scholarship program, livelihood and emergency employment projects, and recently, its pneumococcal and flu vaccination activities. It has also helped fund more than two hundred local infrastructure projects in all six provinces of the region.
But which it could be said that much has been achieved in Tingog Party-List’s first term in office, there is still so much more to be accomplished. The task is far from over, and Tingog Party-List is hopeful that it will continue to receive the mandate of its constituents for another three years in Congress. Tingog Party-List will continue to work hard so that no one is left behind and until the needs, dreams and aspirations of every family in Eastern Visayas and in the regional countryside will be heard.