With legislative task almost done, House now focusing on oversight function to ensure the 2024 national budget is properly utilized and laws are implemented

THE House of Representatives has more time to exercise its oversight power now that it has passed on third and final reading almost all of the Marcos administration’s priority bills, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said Monday.

“Hindi lamang tayo gumagawa ng batas. Ayon sa ating mandato, sinisigurado rin natin na naipapatupad ang mga batas na ito nang wasto at patas. Tinitiyak natin na bawat batas na ipinapasa natin ay may direktang pakinabang sa ordinaryong mamamayan,” Speaker Romualdez told his colleagues upon reconvening after the Christmas recess.

Speaker Romualdez said House members would help President Feerdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos oversee and implement the programs funded in the 2024 national budget, including assistance to the poor, farmers and fisherfolk as part of the institution’s oversight functions.

“Sa mga susunod na araw at buwan, ilalarga ng administrasyon ang malalaking programa para mabigyan ng ginhawa ang ating mga mamamayan sa harap ng inflation na nagaganap ngayon sa buong mundo,” Speaker Romualdez said, referring to the proposed P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget that includes almost P500 billion social amelioration program or ‘ayuda’ for at least 12 million poor and low-income families or an estimated 48 million Filipinos.

He revealed that Congress introduced in the budget a new program labeled AKAP, for Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita.

AKAP aims to provide direct cash assistance to the ‘near poor’ or families earning up to P23,000 a month.

At least 12 million households will benefit from it, including low-income workers like those in construction and factories, drivers, food service crew, and the like.

He said the target beneficiaries would receive “a one-time cash assistance.”

“Lahat ng programang ito ay nilagyan natin ng sapat na pondo dito sa Kongreso. Tulungan natin ang Pangulo para matiyak na bawat sentimo sa mga programang ito ay makakarating sa lahat ng distrito – mula sa mga siyudad hanggang sa mga baryo,” he said.

He said aside from approving proposed laws, “we have also ably demonstrated our resolve to address issues that impact our fellow Filipinos by exercising our oversight functions.”

“We scrutinized government operations by conducting legislative inquiries in aid of legislation. We engaged our counterparts in the executive department in open and honest discussions, gathered reliable information and offered immediate recommendations,” he said.

The leader of the 300-plus-strong House proceeded to enumerate some of the inquiries the chamber’s committees have conducted in the exercise of its oversight power.

He noted that just last week, upon his instruction, the committees on ways and means and on senior citizens and special committee on persons with disabilities looked into gaps and confusion in the implementation of laws granting discounts, benefits and other privileges to millions of senior citizens, persons with disability (PWDs) and solo parents.

Senior citizens are entitled to a 20-percent discount on medicines, food items and other purchases, plus a 12-percent value added tax exemption.

The inquiry prompted popular coffee chain Starbucks to scrap its “one food item, one beverage” limit on the elderly’s 20-percent discount after apologizing for its “mistake.”

The committees are also looking into a similar restriction of applying the discount on one slice for every cake purchased imposed by a big bakeshop.

The other recent inquiries conducted by the House include:

1. The investigation by the committee on dangerous drugs on the entry into the country and recycling of illegal substances, and the alleged involvement of some law enforcers in the drug trade.

2. The committee on public order and safety looked into the procurement by the Philippine National Police of body-worn cameras and other mission-essential equipment, and the discovery of mass graves at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prisons.

3. The committee on energy inquired into the massive power outage in Western Visayas that caused financial losses and hardship to businesses and households.

4. The committee on transportation investigated the alleged irregularities and corruption in the implementation of the public utility vehicle modernization program.

In the area of legislation, Speaker Romualdez reported that the House has passed all 17 priority measures listed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in his State of the Nation Address last July, seven months before the next SONA.

The chamber has also passed, three months ahead of the agreed deadline, all the 20 bills the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council had targeted for approval before the end of 2023.

“Tapos po nating lahat ang assignment na ibinigay sa atin ni Pangulong Marcos sa kanyang SONA noong isang taon. Tumupad din tayo sa kasunduan sa LEDAC para sa mga batas na kailangang ipasa ng Senado at House of Representatives,” Speaker Romualdez reported.

“These are just but few of our notable accomplishments. The question that begs for a sincere response, however, is what additional measures could we do to better serve the Filipino people?” he asked.

The Speaker pointed out that in the days ahead, the House would also continue to review laws and policies “to address pressing, contemporary issues and introduce reforms.”

“We need to strengthen the relevance and applicability of established laws and policies to align with existing conditions, including amendments to the Constitution, all for the benefit of the people and the economic prosperity of our nation,” he added.

The House leader welcomed last week’s decision of the Senate to join the House in its push for Charter reform so the country could attract more foreign investors.

“It is critical that we facilitate the entry of foreign capital and direct investments into our economy. It is imperative that we reexamine the Constitution and carefully scrutinize pertinent economic provisions to eliminate the barriers that restrict potential growth,” he stressed.

“Sa tulong ng Senate at lahat ng Pilipinong naghahangad ng pagbabago, matutupad na rin ang pangarap natin na mabuksan ang ekonomiya para makapasok ang pondong kailangan sa paglikha ng mas maraming negosyo, trabaho at kabuhayan ng mga Pilipino,” he said.

He likewise reiterated his proposal for the Maharlika Investment Fund to invest in the country’s power transmission grid operated by National Grid Corp. of the Philippines.