Thursday, 14 January 2010

Foreign chambers trim wish list of priority bills


FOREIGN CHAMBERS are paring down the list of proposed laws they want passed before Congress turns its attention to the May elections, focusing on three measures that have already hurdled much of the legislative process.

Officials from Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) member groups said they want to concentrate on a few pending measures as the 14th Congress’ term nears its end. From a list of ten priorities the foreign chambers listed back in June 2009, five have not been ratified.

Of the remaining bills, officials said they would be focusing on just two -- the streamlining of investment incentives and the simplified net income taxation scheme (SNITS) -- alongside another bill that was not earlier listed: one creating the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).

"I think that’s realistic," European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Vice-President Henry J. Schumacher said in a telephone interview yesterday, speaking on behalf of the JFC.

John D. Forbes, who heads the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’ legislative committee, said that while they continue to back all their priority bills, "there might not be enough time" for some.

Congress will resume session on Jan. 18 and adjourn on Feb. 5 to allow legislators to focus on their election bids. After the polls, the 14th Congress will return to work one last time from May 31-June 4.

The three bills which the chambers are focusing on have already been passed by the House of Representatives and are merely waiting Senate approval of their counterpart measures.

Congress leaders could not be immediately reached for comment. The list of nine bills legislators said they could pass during this session does not include the foreign chambers’ priorities.

Malacañang, for its part, last week prodded legislators to pass the two revenue measures also cited by the foreign chambers.

For the proposed rationalization of fiscal incentives, the chambers tagged House Bill 5421 as their preferred measure among four similar bills pending in the Senate. The bill proposes, among others, a lower 15% corporate income tax after the income tax holiday granted to a firm lapses.

In contrast, those introduced by senators Loren B. Legarda, Panfilo M. Lacson and Manuel B. Villar, Jr. are either "not as comprehensive" as the House bill or will turn off investors by nixing the income tax holiday, the groups said in a statement presented at a joint Senate committee hearing last week and posted on American chamber’s Web site yesterday.

Another priority measure that will establish the DICT -- Senate Bill 2546 -- must likewise be passed to ensure the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector’s competitiveness, the officials reiterated.

The bill, pending plenary approval, will bring together communications-related offices currently dispersed among the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Office of the President.

"The Philippines should not be the last to have a DICT. It is very important to the growth of the BPO sector," Mr. Forbes said.

Mr. Schumacher further tagged the proposed SNITS measure as another priority bill, which likewise needs Senate approval after already being passed by the House.

Asked why other bills earlier cited as priorities -- those that will overhaul the country’s birth control policy, bolster efforts against smuggling, and improve access to information -- were left out, Mr. Forbes said: "We continue to support them, of course."

The Freedom to Information Act, with just the Senate’s counterpart measure remaining, is already near passage, Mr. Forbes noted.

"But since House has not passed the Reproductive Health Act [for instance], it seems inconceivable. There might not enough time," he said.

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