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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

15 November 2020 01:15:07 PM

The House of Representatives will resume session on Monday with the ratification of the P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 and approval of a number of must-pass bills high on its agenda.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the 301-member legislative chamber is ready to buckle down to work with strict physical distancing and health protocols in place amid the continuing threat of COVID-19.

“We need to hit the ground running and make full use of this year’s remaining sessions to tackle and pass the priority measures, especially those that have been certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte,” Velasco said.

Congress only has four weeks left in session before it adjourns on December 19 for a month-long Christmas break.

“We are working with our House leaders in finding ways to fast-track priority measures that will ensure a more efficient and responsive government during these trying times,” Velasco said.

“We are confident that our colleagues in the legislature share a common goal as we all report for work on Monday,” he added.

According to Velasco, making sure the President will be able to sign the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) into law before the year ends remains the top priority of the House.

“We are looking forward to the bicameral conference on the 2021 GAB and hopefully, we will be able to ratify the bicam report before Congress adjourns for the holidays,” he said.

Velasco said the record-high budget is the government’s “single-most powerful tool” to fight COVID-19 and help the economy and the people recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

Also high on the House agenda is the approval of the bill strengthening Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), the proposed Internet Transactions Act, and the proposed Magna Carta of Barangay Workers.

President Duterte earlier certified as urgent House Bill 6174 seeking to amend AMLA, saying the amendments are necessary for the country to “comply with legal standards for anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing, as established by relevant international bodies.”

Velasco underscored the urgent need to pass the bill in order to avoid adverse finding against the country, which could lead to higher cost of doing financial transactions of overseas Filipino workers and the local business sector.

The bill is now up for second reading approval after it was approved by the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries last month.

Velasco said the swift passage of the proposed Internet Transactions Act was necessary to protect consumers, especially with the increase in online transactions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The measure was approved by the House Committee on Trade and Industry during the recess.

Other priority measures identified by Velasco are the proposed Coconut Levy Fund; National Land Use Act; Rightsizing the National Government Act; Right to Adequate Food, Anti-Ethnic, Racial and Religious Discrimination Act; and On-Site, In-City, Near City Local Government Resettlement Program.

Velasco also vowed to ensure the immediate passage of economic bills that will “jumpstart the economy and help the country rise above the devastating effects of the pandemic.”

“All these economic measures would go hand in hand with bills that will address systemic corruption in government,” Velasco pointed out. “Both are equally important in helping the country get back on track, especially in the last two years of the Duterte administration.”

Meanwhile, the House leadership and secretariat have put in place health and safety measures to protect lawmakers, employees and guests inside the Batasan Complex in Quezon City.

House Secretary General Jocelia Bighani Sipin said all members and employees reporting for work on Monday are required to undergo the reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for COVID-19.

Speaker Velasco took the lead by having himself tested at the House RT-PCR testing facility last week.

Initial testing began on November 11, but was suspended due to Typhoon Ulysses. Testing will resume on Monday.

Visitors are also required to undergo COVID-19 antigen testing before they can be granted access to the offices inside the complex.

All those entering the House need to wear masks and face shields, pass through thermal scanners and disinfection machines, and observe physical distancing at all times.

House members, employees and guests are required to submit an accomplished health declaration form to inform the chamber of their health status before being allowed to enter its premises.

In May, the House passed a motion allowing for a hybrid session that combines physical presence with teleconferencing.

This allowed the chamber to continue with the unhampered performance of its constitutional mandate amid the pandemic and with due consideration on the health and safety of its members and staff.

Under this setup, members are allowed to register their attendance, participate and vote on any matter presented to the body through telecommunications and/or online messaging and email using their pre-registered contact numbers and email addresses duly verified by the Secretary General. #