Congress has adjourned days before the Feb. 8 start of the campaign period for this year’s elections. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will return briefly from May 23 to June 3 to convene as the National Board of Canvassers to proclaim the incoming president and vice president.
Both chambers, however, ratified several measures that have already been transmitted to Malacañang for the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
• Amendments to the Public Service Act. This seeks to lift foreign investment restrictions on all sectors except the transmission and distribution of electricity, water pipeline and sewerage, seaports, petroleum pipeline, and public utility vehicles. The measure will amend the nearly century-old Commonwealth Act 146 and redefines public utilities that remain sealed off to foreign investments.
“By fostering a business-friendly environment and a level playing field that welcomes all players, we can promote more innovation, create more and better jobs, and accelerate our growth,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said.
“We expect an increase in FDIs (foreign direct investments) by around P299 billion over the next five years from the final version of the sectors that will be opened up as a result of the PSA amendments. We also expect gross value added (GVA) growth in these areas to cause a GDP growth rate that is 0.47 percentage points higher than the baseline,” said Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, House Ways and Means Committee chairperson.
• SIM Card Registration Act, which will require all public telecommunications entities (PTEs) to register mobile phone Subscriber Identity Module cards as a prerequisite to their sale and activation. The measure also provides that all social media networks should require the real name and phone number of users upon the creation of their accounts. All existing SIM card subscribers with active services must register within 180 days from the effectivity of the proposed law.
• HB 10701 and SB 2421, granting mandatory continuing benefits to health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and other future public health emergencies. Under the measure, all health workers shall receive a special risk allowance (SRA) for every month of service during the state of public health emergency. The amount shall be based on the risk exposure categorization as follows: those deployed in “low risk areas” shall receive at least P3,000; those deployed in “medium risk areas” shall be given at least P6,000; and those deployed in “high risk areas” shall be given at least P9,000.
Full Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) coverage shall also be granted to health workers who are admitted to a hospital with confirmed COVID-19 infection, and such other disease which is the subject of a public health emergency declaration.
“This will ensure that there is always enough funding for healthcare worker benefits in recognition of the sacrifices that these medical frontliners have been doing, and will do in the future, to save lives in public health emergencies,” said one of the bill’s authors, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.
• HB 3255 and SB 1241, establishing Timbangan ng Bayan Centers in all markets nationwide
• HB 9458 and SB 643, granting night shift differential pay to government employees
• HB 10698 and SB 2124, strengthening the Sangguniang Kabataan
• HB 10658 and SB 2449, strengthening the policies on anti-trafficking in persons
• HB 8818 and SB 2365, strengthening the regulatory framework for the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC)
According to Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, the Upper Chamber has done its part in moving priority measures that would help pave the way for the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have already passed all the requested economic bills of the administration,” Zurbiri said, adding that these measures will help shore in more foreign direct investments which will mean more jobs and a higher recovery rate for the economy.
“The ball is in the court [of the executive] and as far as we are concerned in the Senate, we have done our job already even before the campaign period has started. Nothing else is pending in our priority list for economic measures which we all passed,” Zubiri said.