By Beatrice M. Laforga, March 3, 2021; Business World

The government is pushing for the passage of 25 priority measures before the end of the year, including new taxes on digital platforms and offshore gaming operators, further liberalization of the retail trade sector and the last two remaining tax reform packages.

The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) Executive Committee approved the common legislative agenda for the 18th Congress during a meeting on Feb. 18, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

“These bills are crucial in ensuring the country’s economic recovery and in regaining our development trajectory that was held back by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue working with Congress to move the legislative agenda forward and enact these priority legislations within 2021,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and LEDAC Secretariat Head Karl Kendrick T. Chua said in a statement.

The 12 priority bills targeted to be passed by June include the last two packages under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program — the Real Property Valuation and Assessment Reform Act and Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act; and the last measure under the proposed recovery package: Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) Act.

Also included are revenue-generating measures such as amusement taxes on digital platforms and online cockfighting; establishing a tax regime for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO); and increasing the share of local government units in the national internal revenue taxes.

Other priority measures include amendments to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act and Foreign Investments Act, which aim to attract more investments by easing restrictions on foreign ownership on some sectors.

The list also includes the proposed Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act (Agri-Agra), and creation of a Medical Reserve Corps and a Disease Prevention and Control Authority.

The LEDAC also identified another 13 priority bills to be approved by Congress by December.

These include:

• Creating a Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension of the Military and Uniformed Personnel Act;
• National Land Use and Management Act;
• Internet Transactions Act;
• Magna Carta for Barangay Health Workers Act;
• National Housing Development Act;
• Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act;
• Modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Act;
Modernizing the Bureau of Immigration Act;
• Amending/Repealing RA 10192, or the Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016; and
• Reviving the Death Penalty by Lethal Injection for Crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“As we safely reopen our economy and begin our vaccination program this year, we need to enact these bills to create an enabling economic environment and further strengthen our healthcare and fiscal system against future pandemics and other threats,” LEDAC ExCom Chairperson and Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea said in a statement.

Sought for comment, Albay Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said all the measures that will go through the committee “will be approved within deadline.”

“It’s also important that we get these reforms completed soon especially since we will be occupied by the budget season again after our March adjournment,” Mr. Salceda said via Viber on Tuesday.

“I am already working closely with the economic managers on the fiscal and economic reforms identified. After all, I am a principal author of almost the whole of the LEDAC list,” he added.

The LEDAC is made up of 20 members that include President Rodrigo R. Duterte, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, Mr. Chua, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and three other Cabinet members, four senators, four congressmen and three members from local governments, the youth and private sector.

Economic managers are hoping these reform measures will help drive recovery. The government expects gross domestic product to grow by as much as 7.5% this year after a record 9.5% contraction in 2020.