By Bernadette D. Nicolas, May 29 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to CNN Philippines

The House Committee on Appropriations has approved an unnumbered substitute bill seeking to institutionalize the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) as concerns raised by the Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management and the Civil Service Commission were also settled during the meeting.

Principally authored by former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the measure seeks to establish NEDA as an independent and planning agency that shall provide impartial, objective, and evidence-based analyses and recommendations for the socio-economic betterment of the nation.

The NEDA shall consist of two distinct but functionally related entities, the NEDA Board and the Neda.

During the meeting presided by Committee Vice Chairperson and Compostela Valley 1st District Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda pointed out that the approval of the measure is long-overdue.

“We need a stronger NEDA in order to sustain the reform initiative of the Duterte administration,” Salceda said.

While Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran supported the spirit of the measure, he expressed concern about the effect of institutionalizing NEDA as an independent body.

“While we believe that the NEDA should be a stronger entity, we believe it should be more interdependent than dependent. Because the moment you call the NEDA independent, it loses its coordinative goal in the committees,” Beltran said.

But Salceda was quick to defend the measure, saying the bill qualifies NEDA’s independence in relation to its function of providing recommendations free from influences.

The lawmaker said this is the first time that all the existing, coordinative bodies of NEDA are being recognized and institutionalized through the bill.

“That forces NEDA to be interdependent in order to produce the impartial and objective, evidence-based [recommendations]. So binaligtad namin ang independence dito. Yung independence na akala mo free from everyone. Dito ang independence is they must provide impartial, objective-based recommendations. So this is a totally new approach towards the definition of independence,” Salceda said.

For her part, NEDA Undersecretary Adoracion Navarro said that the constitutional basis, which is Section 9, Article 12 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, for the creation of the proposed NEDA under the House bills indeed establishes responsibility to work closely with agencies of the government.

“It is operationally accountable to the President as Chair of the Board. And yet in accordance with the Constitution, it shall consult not only with public agencies but also various private sectors and local government units. So tama ang DOF, may interdependence. But at the same time, it’s independent. And given that its mandate is directed towards national development, the NEDA is also accountable to the Filipino people. Thus, it must always go through the process of recommending to Congress as they serve as the people’s representative,” Navarro said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia has since said that the proposed law seeks to address fragmented, uncoordinated, and even often uninterrupted planning, policymaking, programming and budgeting process of the government.

The passage of the bill is expected to bring continuity of plans, programs, and policies that should outlive a President’s term.

While the 1987 Constitution resolved to create an “independent and economic planning agency,” Pernia said on enabling law has yet been passed to exercise this function, which led to fragmented and uncoordinated policymaking.

Because of this, a number of country’s plans, programs and policies have been delayed, discontinued, and or neglected, preventing the attainment of long-term goals.