By Charmaine A. Tadalan, May 21 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Business World

THE 17th CONGRESS will likely end with enactment of the anti-terrorism, the security of tenure and the expanded anti-wiretapping measures, but without any of the remaining tax reforms wanted by the Executive, Senate leaders signaled on Monday.

Lawmakers reconvened yesterday for the remaining session days of the 17th Congress spanning May 20-June 7. Any measure that fails to make it out of Congress by then will have to start from scratch in the 18th Congress that opens on July 22.

“We will try our best to pass the anti-terrorism bill, the security of tenure… Ito ‘yung mga (these will require just) finishing touches na lang; anti-wiretapping and possibly the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters following a caucus with members of the Senate’s majority bloc on Monday.

“And then meron kaming mga iba pa, ‘yung (There is also the) NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) charter (amendment that will strengthen the socioeconomic planner), baka kailangan maihabol ‘yan, (which we may have to rush) and then a number of local bills, napakarami (that are so many).”

Senate Bill No. 2204, or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act is designed to amend Republic Act No. 9372, or the “Human Security Act of 2007,” by redefining terrorism acts punishable by law and easing restrictions for law enforcers; while SB 1826 , or the proposed Security of Tenure and End of Endo Act, will amend Presidential Decree No. 442, or the Labor Code of the Philippines, by expanding the list of banned forms of contracting.

SB 1210, or the proposed Expanded Anti-Wire Tapping Act, will expand coverage of the anti-wiretapping law by prohibiting use of electronic and other modern equipment to listen into or record private communications.

These measures await second-reading approval in the Senate, while their counterparts in the House of Representatives had been approved on final reading, except for the anti-terrorism bill which is still in a committee.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said senators planned to question measures proposed by the Department of Finance, after President Rodrigo R. Duterte vetoed bills like the one establishing the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund and the reconstitution of the Philippine Coconut Authority, due to perceived insufficient Executive role, among others.

Marami tayong kasamahan na medyo napikon sa na-veto na kanilang (We have many colleagues who were miffed by the President’s veto of their) measures, which were recommended by the Finance team. They all listed to debate and ask questions on the different Finance measures,” Senator Zubiri said in an interview on Monday.

Mr. Zubiri said the Senate hopes for better coordination with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office to prevent recurrence of approval of bills that will only be vetoed by Mr. Duterte eventually. “Umaapila na kami sa (We are appealing to) Malacañang, we said that they have to come up with a more effective PLLO para masabihan angchairman kung lulusot (so that committee chairmen can be told of the odds that measures will be signed into law by the President),” Mr. Zubiri said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said he will oppose any more tax reforms in the remaining weeks of the current Congress. “My personal position was that all major issues, [will have to wait for the] next congress. No midnight session,” Senator Recto said in an interview on Monday. “I’m against any taxes in the next nine (session) days.”

Sought for comment, Finance Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa S. Habitan said via text message on Monday, “We remain hopeful.”

Mr. Duterte has signed into law Republic Act No. 10963, which slashed personal income tax rates and increased or added levies on some goods and services, and the RA 11213, which grants estate tax amnesty and amnesty on delinquent accounts that remained unpaid after being given final assessment. Other tax reforms pending in the Senate Ways and Means committee are bills proposing to reduce corporate income tax and remove redundant fiscal incentives; simplify taxes on financial instruments; centralize real property valuation and assessment; increase government share from mining revenues and excise taxes imposed on alcohol and tobacco products.