By Angela Coloma, February 21 2019; ABS-CBN News

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a number of landmark bills this February, some of which were promises or priority bills highlighted during his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Among which of the bills are the Rice Tariffication Act which aims to loosen import and export regulations on rice and the Universal Health Care Act which seeks to widen access to free and affordable healthcare.

1. Expanded maternity leave

On Thursday, Duterte signed a bill granting additional leave benefits for working mothers, better known as the “Expanded Maternity Leave” bill, expanding paid leaves for working mothers from 60-78 days to 105 days.

Under the measure, all working mothers in the government and private sector are guaranteed with 105 days of paid maternity leave credits, with 7 days of the leave transferable to fathers. Fifteen more days of the leave will be granted to single mothers.

2. Universal health care 

Duterte on Wednesday signed the Universal Health Care Act, a measure that would provide healthcare coverage for all Filipinos.
The said law guarantees equitable access to “quality and affordable health goods and services” and protection against financial risks.

The measure enrolls all Filipinos to the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP), which includes PhilHealth.

Former Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque previously said Duterte rendered UHC a “priority” measure, which was “30 years in the making.”

3. Rice tariffication 

Duterte also signed the rice tariffication law, which seeks to loosen import and export regulations on rice. The newly-signed law was one of the key requests of Duterte in his 2018 SONA, as he called for the “swift” passage of the bill in his speech.

The new law reduces the role of National Food Authority to supplying “buffer stocks” in times of calamities, effectively removing their role in retailing and selling market staple NFA rice.

However, critics, particularly farmers and retailer groups have hit the bill as thousands of jobs are feared to be affected, particularly of farmers and NFA employees, when the law takes effect.

4. Mobile number portability
In the said law, which was signed on Tuesday, mobile service providers are required to provide nationwide mobile number portability to subscribers.

Republic Act 11202 or Mobile Number Portability Act imposes a “no interconnection fee policy” on users making domestic calls and text messages.

As of writing, two of the country’s biggest telecommunication companies, Globe and Smart, expressed support to the bill. However, some subscribers aired concerns about having to inform their contacts should they change network providers.

5. Strengthening the central bank 
Duterte on Feb. 14 also signed the “The New Central Bank Act” which widens the regulatory powers of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to other non-bank financial institutions such as money service businesses, credit-granting businesses, and payment system operators.

The central bank was also granted expanded powers to impose administrative and criminal sanctions. It can also forfeit profits from unauthorized financial transactions.

6. New housing department 

Duterte also signed a bill consolidating the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).

The department, according to Republic Act 11201, was named the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD).

7. Mandatory career counseling program for HS, SHS

Duterte on Valentine’s day also signed into law a bill establishing a career guidance and counseling program for all secondary schools or the “Republic Act 11206” or the Secondary School Career Guidance and Counseling Act .

The measure will institutionalize a career guidance and counseling program for students in all private and public secondary schools as guidance for tertiary education.

8. Tax amnesty bill (partial veto)
While Duterte already signed the Tax Amnesty Bill, he called on Congress to pass another bill which would lift bank secrecy for cases of fraud, citing that an “overgenerous” general amnesty “would create an environment ripe for future tax evasion.

Tax Amnesty Act of 2019 was meant to complement the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law, as it will allow the government to raise revenues for priority infrastructure and social programs while unburdening those with past tax liabilities.

Duterte also urged Congress to include safeguards to ensure the truthfulness of asset or net worth declarations, as well as the automatic exchange of information.

9. Revised Corporation Code

Duterte on Wednesday signed Republic Act 11232, which updates the 38-year-old Corporation Code in a bid to make the Philippines an attractive investment destination.

The law allows a single person to form a corporation, removes the requirement for minimum capitalization, permits the electronic filing of reportorial requirements, allows attendance in meetings via remote communication or in absentia, and provides protection to minority stockholders.

The new law also simplifies the name verification process and grant perpetual life as the default option for corporations.