Congress vows passage of Maharlika, wage bills | Inquirer News

Congress vows passage of Maharlika, wage bills

The plenary hall of the House of Representatives. STORY: Congress vows passage of Maharlika, wage bills

The plenary hall of the House of Representatives. ( file photo)

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers on Sunday vowed to work double time in passing the administration’s priority bills when Congress resumes session on Monday, with both houses of Congress listing the establishment of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) and a measure to revitalize the country’s salt industry in their agenda.

The Senate, for its part, has included a legislated wake hike among its priorities, along with amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law; the measure which seeks to organize a medical reserve corps; the establishment of a Center for Disease Control and Virology Institute; the internet transaction or E-Commerce Law, and the Philippine Passport Act.


In an interview on Sunday on radio station dzBB, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they needed to work efficiently to pass priority legislation in 12 session days before the sine die adjournment on June 2.


“We’ll take it one step at a time,” he said, pointing out that the Senate would try to pass “happy bills,” or measures personal to senators, including the legislated wage hike.

Zubiri, describing the wage increase bill as his personal favorite, lamented that the country’s declining inflation was not being felt by workers who remain burdened by the high cost of goods and utilities.


In an interview on radio station dwIZ a day earlier, he warned private enterprises, from large corporations to small businesses, that they might soon find themselves without skilled workers if they continued to ignore the demand for increased wages amid the rising cost of living.

He made the forecast as he pushed for the passage of the measure seeking to provide an across-the-board P150 minimum wage increase for the country’s private sector workers, including those employed in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Big disparity

An additional P3,000 a month will definitely give relief to Filipino workers, said Zubiri, who also took to task the regional wage boards for their “very slow” action on petitions for wage increases.

“If we do not make adjustments — and this is a warning to our businesses—if we do not adjust our salaries not only among minimum wage earners but also among middle-income workers, many of them will soon leave your company and you will be left only with unskilled labor,” the lawmaker said.

He noted that more Filipino skilled workers were seeking to work abroad due to the huge discrepancy of income between those who have left and those who continue to work here in the country.

“If we look at the data, Malaysia and Indonesia have increased their minimum wages, with P840 and P700 a day, respectively. I do not even need to mention Singapore because from what I know, the minimum wage there is about P1,500,” Zubiri said.

He recounted an interaction he had with Filipino cattle farmers in New Zealand, who he said were earning as much as US$3,000 (about P166,000), compared to P25,000 monthly, the highest amount they could earn in the Philippines.

‘A lot of safeguards’

On the MIF measure, a “pet priority of the President,” Zubiri said the Senate might be able to pass it by the end of the month, and “hopefully it would be ratified by the first week of June before the sine die break.”

He noted that the final Senate version of the measure would have “a lot of safeguards,” adding it was “not as-is” of the bill approved by the House of Representatives.

“We can assure the public that there are sufficient safeguards that the [MIF] won’t be exploited for corruption, abused for personal gain or for money laundering. It will be managed properly by professionals, not only by political appointees. So it would be under scrutiny by the different auditing agencies,” he said, adding: “I’m quite satisfied with the proposed amendments. There are many safeguards. That is the most important [thing].”

Other priority bills

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said there were 11 additional urgent bills identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac), bringing to 42 the total number of priority administration measures.

Initially there were only 31 Ledac priority bills, of which 20 have been approved on third and final reading by the House.

In a statement on Sunday, Romualdez said “President Marcos approved 11 bills designed to address key issues on public health, job creation, and further stimulate economic growth as part of his administration’s priority legislation. These measures will be the focus of our legislative efforts when Congress resumes session this Monday.”

The added priority measures, apart from the MIF, include amendments to fixed terms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines; a measure on ease of paying taxes; the local government unit income classification; amendments to the Universal Health Care Act; the modernization of the Bureau of Immigration; infrastructure development plan; salt industry bill; Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System; national employment action plan; and amendments to the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act.

Romualdez said the House would try to approve eight measures from the original Ledac list at the homestretch of the first regular session of the 19th Congress.

These include the establishment of regional specialty hospitals; an enabling measure for the natural gas industry; the National Land Use Act; the proposed Department of Water Resources and Services and creation of the Water Regulatory Commission; the Budget Modernization Act; National Defense Act; amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, and the bill on a unified system of separation, retirement, and pension for uniformed personnel.

Estate tax amnesty

Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto urged both houses of Congress to pass a measure extending the estate tax amnesty, which expires on June 14.

Warning that the “clock is ticking” on the bill, he proposed that the Senate start tackling the measure, ahead of the House version’s arrival, so it could already be primed for plenary debates.

The Batangas lawmaker said the Senate could pass the “simple bill” without having to wait for President Marcos to certify the measure as urgent, although legislation on taxes usually originated from the House of Representatives.

Recto said he was certain that the House bill extending the estate tax amnesty period would be passed on third and final reading, just as easily as it hurdled the committee on ways and means.

He pointed out that by extending the amnesty for another two years, “families will save billions while the government will earn billions,” adding that the extension would serve as a “lifeline to a government scrounging for revenues and an act of kindness.”

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The measure, apart from extending the amnesty period, would also amend the cut-off period for deaths covered by the law from Dec. 31, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2021, which would cover persons who died at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and “whose estates have remained unpaid or have accrued as of this period.”


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TAGS: 19th Congress, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Maharlika Investment Fund, Marcos priority bills

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