By Charmaine A. Tadalan, August 23 2019; Business World

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STATE economic managers have formalized the Executive branch’s request for closer coordination with the 18th Congress to speed up approval of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s legislative priorities.

The Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) made the proposal in a joint letter to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano.

“The DoF, DBM and NEDA look forward to working more closely with the 18th Congress, under your leadership, to better align the priorities of the legislature with the President’s development agenda,” a DoF statement on Thursday quoted the letter as saying. “This is to ensure that we can move our country forward and achieve our Ambisyon Natin 2040 objective of becoming a high-income country where poverty is eradicated.”

They proposed to hold regular informal or technical meetings of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

The DoF said it has reorganized its office and assigned directors and staff tasked to regularly coordinate with Congress.

Economic managers noted in their statement that closer engagement with lawmakers should help ensure approval of more reforms that will bag for the Philippines more credit rating upgrades.

The Philippines on April 30 attained a higher investment-grade credit rating of “BBB+” from S&P Global, which the DoF attributed to key economic reforms such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, estate tax amnesty, tobacco tax reform, rice trade liberalization, National ID System, as well as the ease of doing business and universal health care laws.

Attaining an “A” credit rating “means that the government, businesses and ordinary Filipinos can borrow more cheaply to invest, create jobs, and improve their lives,” the economic team also said.

The press release comes ahead of a LEDAC preparatory meeting on Aug. 27, during which the House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to harmonize their legislative agenda for the first regular session of the 18th Congress. The full council LEDAC, meanwhile, may convene in September after President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s visit to China.

Mr. Sotto on Aug. 5 said that the small LEDAC will convene monthly, while the full council will meet quarterly.

Just last Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said that Cabinet clusters have identified bills — targeted for approval in this session — that will increase competitiveness of the Philippines in Southeast Asia. The 18th Congress’ first regular session ends on June 5 next year.

The Cabinet’s proposed reforms include the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA) that will reduce the corporate income tax rate gradually to 20% by 2029 from 30% currently and remove redundant fiscal incentives; as well as proposed amendments to Republic Act No. 7042, or the Foreign Investments Act of 1991, which will remove restrictions on foreigners from practicing their profession in the Philippines.

The Cabinet will also push amendments to the 82-year-old Commonwealth Act No. 146, or the Public Service Act, which will lift foreign ownership limits in utilities; and RA 8762, or the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which will reduce the required minimum paid-up capital for foreign entrants to the country’s retail sector.

LEDAC, as provided by RA 7640, is chaired by the President and includes among its members the Vice-President, the Speaker, seven Cabinet members designated by the President, three senators designated by the Senate President, three members of the House designated by the Speaker, as well as a representative each from local government, the youth and the private sectors. It held its last meeting in September 2017, based on its Web site.

The small LEDAC, meanwhile, is composed of Senate President Sotto, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Finance committee chair Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, on the part of the Senate.The House will be represented by Speaker Cayetano (Taguig City 1st district), Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte (Camarines Sur 2nd district), Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez (Leyte 1st district), Minority Leader Bienvenido M. Abante Jr. (Manila 6th district), Appropriations committee chair Isidro T. Ungab (Davao City 3rd district) and Ways and Means chair Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda (Albay 2nd district).

Mr. Salceda on August 5 said the House will prioritize the proposed increase in excise tax on alcohol products, Public Service Act amendments, establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, proposed CITIRA, and establishment of Malasakit Centers; on top of the P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020. — Charmaine A. Tadalan