URGENT

President Duterte has certified to the necessity of House Bill 6215 or the proposed General Appropriations Act of 2018.

President Duterte invoked  Article 6 Sec 26 (2) of the constitution in order to address the need to maintain continuous government operations following the end of the current fiscal year, to expedite the funding of various programs, projects and actvities for FY 2018 and to ensure budgetary preparedness that will enable the government to effetcively perform its constitutional mandate.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas said “ We will only approve it on 2nd Reading tonight and on 3rd Reading when it will already be printed with all the amendments, which will take a week or two.”

The certification waives the 3 day period between the vote on 2nd and 3rd reading making a vote on 3rd and final reading possible today, should the debates end today.

168 congressmen showed up at the House of Representatives this morning to proceed with the last day of plenary deliberations on the proposed 2018 national budget.

This despite the cancellation of classes and work in government offices today because of inclement weather.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas told reporters on viber, “we are separate and independent from the Executive Department.We will proceed with the Budget Deliberations and finish them today, unless some Members decide to make us work until tomorrow. Thank you!”

Secretary General Cesar Pareja also relayed the same information. “Per ML Fariñas, as approved by the Speaker, we have work today. We will continue with deliberations on the 2018 Budget.”

The previous session ended at 115am Tuesday. The Monday session ended debates on the budgets of the Commission on Elections Department of Information and Communications Technology and Attached Agencies Office of the President Presidential Management Staff Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Office of the Vice President Department of Foreign Affairs Cultural Center of the Philippines Department of Agriculture and Attached Agencies National Food Authority National Irrigation Administration Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Attached Agencies Department of Public Works and Highways and Attached Corporation.

The House of Representatives on Monday terminated its period of deliberation on the P6 billion proposed budget of the Office of the President (OP) for next year.

 

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez (3rd District, Quezon) led House members in scrutinizing the OP budget.

 

Committee on appropriations chairman Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City), sponsor of the OP budget, said the OP budget next year is 70 percent lower than its present allocation of P20.17 billion.

 

 “So they reduced the requested amount earlier announced?” Suarez asked.

 

The bulk or P15 billion of the OP budget for this year has been allotted for the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits and other related events.

 

Aside from the budget, Suarez also took up with Nograles the issue regarding the chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission or ERC.

 

“I understand the chairman of the ERC, Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar is now under suspension. Is the ERC still functioning normally?” he inquired.

 

Suarez said the ERC plays a vital role in the power industry and that the ERC is supposed to monitor reasonable pricing in terms of distribution of power, as well as monitoring those who will be applying to put up power plants, among others.

 

He likewise asked about the structure of the ERC and how the chairman is selected.

“Is it by voting among the commissioners or it is an appointment by the President,” Suarez asked.

 

Nograles said Salazar is currently serving his suspension until December of this year without pay.

 

He said the chairman is appointed by the President and the chairman. He must be a member of the bar or a lawyer, among other things.

 

Suarez asked if the President can technically fire the ERC chairman to which Nograles replied that he can if there are cases against the chairman. The President, upon due process and since it is within his powers, may terminate the services of the chairman, said Nograles.

 

“The OP is still conducting its inquiry, investigating the other charges that were filed against Chairman Salazar,” Nograles said.

 

Suarez reiterated the vital function of ERC considering that it involves power and asked the Executive to hasten the decision on the issue of the ERC chair.

 

Nograles said there is a commitment from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea of the OP that they will proceed expeditiously but with the colatilla that the case has to pass due process.

 

Suarez also asked what the OP has been doing to resolve the issue on the leadership row at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

 

“I understand that there are some minor issues between the chairman and the general manager. What is the law on SBMA?” Suarez asked.

 

Nograles said that they have repealed Executive Order (EO) 340 and will now revert to the old law that there will be only one head of SBMA.

 

“There is an existing EO separating the functions of the chairman and the administrator and that was the one that created confusion. It is now in process that the President will now be signing a new EO repealing the present EO and thereby revoking the old law wherein the administrator is ex-officio chairman. So there will no longer be  confusion,” Nograles explained.

 

Suarez also called on Medialdea to expedite the resolution because as long as the issue is not resolved, the leadership row at SBMA will still continue. “The port plays an important role in the economy of the country,” he said. 

Also, The House of Representatives terminated on Monday its plenary debate on the proposed 2018 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), amounting to P19.57 billion.

The DFA officials present at the House during the budget deliberation were led by Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano.

Rep. Carlos Cojuangco (1st District, Tarlac), vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations and sponsor of the DFA proposed budget, pointed out that the department budget is 0.52 percent of the P3.77 trillion proposed national appropriation for next year.

 

“The proposed budget currently stands at only 0.52 percent, that is less than one percent of the P3.77 trillion proposed national budget for 2018,” Cojuangco said.

 

“It is a priceless investment in the welfare and safety of our nationals overseas and our nation’s sustained growth, development and security,” Cojuangco said.

In his interpellation, Rep. Joselito Atienza (Party-list, BUHAY) raised the issue on the application and issuance of passports, which he said has been causing a lot of distress on the applicants.

Atienza also asked if the DFA  has initiated special efforts to provide hassle-free arrivals and even special treatment for the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who the country considers as modern-day heroes because of their contribution to the economy.

Further, Atienza queried about the latest development on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Atienza suggested that the country should build structures in the Benham Rise since it is unquestionably and undoubtedly a Philippine territory and to prevent other countries from laying claim on the said area.

Cojuangco said the DFA has taken steps which has expedited the processing of the passport from 10 to seven days, and will speed up further when the equipment purchased by the department are delivered.

He explained that the equipment, which will be deployed nationwide, will increase and improve the data gathering and automated identification system.

He also said there are additional slots being opened for e-passport online appointments, which will accommodate more passport applicants.

On the OFWs, Cojuangco said the DFA works with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in providing assistance to arriving OFWs. He said, however, that some of the concerns pointed out by Atienza fall under the jurisdiction of other government agencies.

On the West Philippine Sea, Cojuangco explained that the current direction of the country’s foreign policy is that the Philippines wishes to work with its neighbors, without renouncing its rightful claims to any territory.

“The policy is basically a status quo. It is a status quo wherein we do not relinquish our rightful claims within the West Philippine Sea, but it is also a policy wherein we do not antagonize the people we are trying to befriend and work with,” Cojuangco explained.

“It is a prudent strategy wherein we maintain our ground but we also cultivate friendships, lasting relationships, and sound diplomacy,” he said.

For his part, Rep. Antonio Tinio (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS) asked what actions the DFA has taken on the Sandy Cay area, a Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea which, Tinio said, China has reportedly occupied.

Cojuangco pointed out the DFA is undertaking two diplomatic approaches to strengthen its claims and presence in the disputed territories, which are through UNCLOS framework and outside UNCLOS.

He stressed that the best way to guarantee peace in the region is when the claimant parties to a disputed territory are engaged in dialogue and agreeing to a system.

Rep. Tom Villarin (Party-list, AKBAYAN) asked about the DFA’s role in monitoring the country’s adherence to international treaties and agreements which the Philippines has ratified.

He also asked about the status of the country’s adherence to the Second Optional Protocol, a covenant on civil and political rights, which the country ratified in 2007.

On the ratified treaties and agreements, Cojuangco explained that these are monitored and periodically reviewed by the Philippine embassies and consulates all over the world. He said the diplomatic posts are also given instructions on how to proceed.

On the Second Optional Protocol, Cojuangco replied that it has not been ratified by the Senate and therefore, the Philippines does not fall under the said covenant.

Other House members also raised issues on the West Philippine Sea situation and concerns of OFWs.