Sustaining the momentum of Ledac

By: Gary B. Teves - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 31,2022 - 08:00 AM

President Marcos Jr. recently convened and presided over the first Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting under his administration, with Senate President Migz Zubiri, House of Representatives Speaker Martin Romualdez, and key Cabinet members in attendance.

The Oct. 10 meeting yielded a list of 30 priority measures forming the administration’s Common Legislative Agenda (CLA). Of these, 19 were priority measures of the executive branch; the Senate and House added 11 more to the list.

Respond to the needs of the peoplePrior to Ledac, a survey conducted by Pulse Asia in September 2022 found that Filipinos’ top concerns were:

1) Controlling inflation

2) Increasing the pay of workers

3) Creating more jobs

4) Reducing poverty; and

5) Fighting graft and corruption

Based on these survey results, Ledac can be guided on what concerns should be addressed immediately.

Among the 30 priority bills under the CLA, we agree that the following can address three immediate concerns of the public.

On job creation, the apprenticeship bill will give Filipinos access to an improved skills training program to bridge the job-skill mismatch and boost their employability. The Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery bill, which seeks to create a lending program for micro, small, and medium enterprises, will help restore jobs lost due to the impact of the pandemic and create new ones.

To help reduce poverty, the passage of the Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interests of Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries will ease the burden of farmers, who are among the country’s poorest. This will also give them access to government lending programs and assistance that can make their farms more productive.

Digitization measures like the e-Governance Act and the e-Government Act can help curb graft and corruption as these will help make government process easier, more transparent, and easier to monitor. The proposed National Government Rightsizing Program will also help clarify the roles of government workers and streamline government processes.

It’s concerning, however, that there seem to be no priority bills that seek to address Filipinos’ top two concerns: controlling inflation and increasing the pay of workers. Inflation has been more than 4 percent for six consecutive months, reaching a four-year high of 6.9 percent in September. Such price hikes have offset increases in the minimum wage: daily minimum wage in the NCR increased from P537 in 2018 to P570 in 2022, but considering price hikes, the real minimum wage has actually declined from P525 in 2019 to P500 in 2022.

Accordingly, we would like to recommend the inclusion of the following in the CLA to help address these two urgent concerns.

To mitigate inflation, we propose passing amendments to the rice and corn nationalization law (Republic Act No. 3018), which will open the rice and corn sectors to 100 percent foreign equity. This can enhance the sector’s competitiveness, and make rice and corn more affordable, accessible, and available for all Filipinos.

To increase the pay of workers, the government should assess how wages of government employees could catch up with inflation over time. In the meantime and to the extent fiscally feasible, the government can help struggling workers in the form of modest cash bonuses. When the economy and fiscal position improve, gradually adjusting wages to inflation would help.

There are also other low-hanging fruits that the government could immediately pursue. These include accelerating the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations of the amendments to the Public Service Act, which can help increase foreign investments and create millions of new jobs in key sectors like telecommunications and transportation. Another is the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will create jobs through increased foreign direct investments and wider access to a larger export market. The Philippines is the only country among its major competitors in the region that has yet to ratify the RCEP.

Passing the Freedom of Information bill to allow Filipinos to request information about government transactions and operations. If passed, it will be a significant step toward increasing transparency and accountability. Approving the Ease of Paying Taxes bill in the Senate, which introduces administrative reforms that will reduce the burden of paying taxes. Finally, passing amendments to the Bank Secrecy Law will give regulators access to information on questionable bank accounts, which can fight tax evasion, fraud, and other financial crimes.

The first Ledac under Mr. Marcos signals a good start, but we hope that the momentum would be sustained. It should be convened at least monthly to help closely supervise and monitor the progress of important bills and ensure the timely approval of policy reforms.

We recommend that Ledac consider approving at least six bills per year or a total of 30 high-priority bills that are consistent with the top national concerns of Filipinos.

The results of Ledac meetings should be continuously released to the public for transparency. A feedback mechanism should be created, so the public will be given the opportunity to share their opinions on matters that directly affect them.

Gary B. Teves served as finance secretary under the Arroyo administration.

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TAGS: CDN, Cebu Daily News, cebu news, graft and corruption, inflation, poverty, Pulse Asia, survey
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