Below is the speech of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr when he opened on Monday, July 27, the 3rd and last Regular Session of the House of Representatives.
My distinguished colleagues, good morning.
Our government and congress began its work under the administration of his excellency, President Benigno S. Aquino III, with his call five years ago during the 15th Congress, for all government officials to observe a “no wang-wang” policy. This was not only meant to be a symbolic gesture, as it actually highlighted the government’s commitment of doing away with the pomp and privilege of power, and high position. It became our collective mission as well, to restore decency to public service, ending long-standing practices of preferences, exemptions and abuse, profoundly guided by the sense of fairness and decency of the Filipino.
The House of Representatives has acted in this spirit, compelling even the mightiest and the most powerful in the land to submit themselves before the full majesty of the law, subjecting all those culpable to a complete accounting before our people.
Good governance is the condition precedent for keeping the trust of the people so that Congress may craft the social contract to feed the poor, educate our children, cure the sick, provide decent employment for our workers, empower the social sectors, and defend our national territory.
By this measure and by these standards, we can all proudly and resoundingly say, that “daang matuwid” has been, a resounding success.
The 15th Congress was characterized by the passage of several landmark legislation. It passed measures that languished for decades for lack of political will. It granted just compensation to the Marcos human rights victims, approved the Kasambahay law and the Reproductive Health law, among others.
Indeed, if there is a single word that can describe the result of the work of the last five years and the work of both the 15th and 16th Congresses, that word is “credibility”.
The Aquino administration and the Congress of the philippines are credible because we ended the abuse of the Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations which for years served as the milking cows of the appointed few. “The GOCC Governance Act” established benchmarks to keep the GOCC Board and Management on their toes. And by limiting their terms to one-year subject to re-appointment based on merit, we held them to the highest standards of accountability and service. It is therefore no small wonder that the previously non-performing GOCCs remitted P28 billion in dividends to the treasury in 2013, and a further P32.3 billion in dividends in 2014.
We are credible to our people because we passed the Sin Tax reform law. From December 2012 to March 2014 alone, smoking prevalence in Class E or the very poor dropped from 38% to 25%, and in the youth from 18-24 years old. The prevalence was vastly reduced from 35% to 18%. We leveled the playing field for all industry players, and increased revenues for health care programs. Excise taxes applied to tobacco, more than doubled in 2014 to P70.4 billion, increasing by P41.8 billion from the previous year.
We are credible to our tax-abiding citizens by ensuring that their taxes will not be stolen by government officials. By amending the Sandiganbayan law, we created an additional two divisions and allowed the transfer of minor cases to the regional trial courts, with the intention to speed up the process of putting the guilty behind bars.
We are credible to our workers because we raised their tax exemption for their 13th month pay from the current P30,000 based on the 1992 price index to P82,000, restoring our workers’ lost purchasing power which had been eroded by inflation.
We are credible to our women because notwithstanding the strongest opposition, we passed the “Reproductive Health law” to ensure that all women, especially the poor, would have universal access to safe, effective, affordbale and quality reproductive health services and methods, and that relevant information and education would be made available.
We are credible to the children who now have more access to quality education, from childhood to adulthood. We institutionalized kindergarten as part of the primary education system, and enhanced our basic education system by legislating the K-12 Act, ensuring that all our school children will be provided quality primary and secondary education, with enough time to master concepts and develop life skills. While there has been opposition to the K-12 program, that is to be expected of any efforts toward genuine reform. We look forward to the gains that will surely be evident as the program enters full implementation.
We are credible to our senior citizens because we have ensured that they will not be forgotten in the sunset of their years. We insisted on mandatory Philhealth coverage for all senior citizens, that they will have adequate health care and preferred access to government services because they are the keepers of our traditions, customs and our heritage.
We are credible to our taxpayers and our citizens because we finally ended the long-standing practice of previous administrations operating on a re-enacted budget. Once and for all we said “no” to the wholesale treatment of budgeting as an outright spoils system based on political patronage.
Under the Aquino administration the House of Representatives has always passed the budget on time. By so doing we ensured rationality, purpose and direction in the planning of our economy, and raised the confidence level of the multilateral development banks as well as the international and domestic investment communities.
And it is this credibility, earned at home and around the world, which has generated tremendous growth potential for our country.
Good governance and credible laws are the key to continuing and expanding this growth. Through these economic measures we intend to make unstoppable the full economic resurgence of the Philippines. By placing our economic policies in line with the best practices of the world we will make inevitable the achievement of full social inclusiveness, and no dream will be unreachable.
For the last five years, our economy has been growing at an annual average of 6.3 percent – the highest five-year average in the last forty years. Given the domestic problems brought about by natural disasters and economic downturns, this is impressive.
Just last week President Aquino signed into law the Philippine Competition Act. This is the Anti-Trust law that took all of 26 years and 8 Congresses to finally enact into law. With this law, we now prohibit and penalize anti-competitive agreements, the abuse of dominant market or supply positions, and anti-competitive mergers, addressing a whole range of sectors from power, to water, to telecommunications, to broadband connectivity and to transportation. It intends, through increased competition, to make more affordable all major goods and services and bring them within the reach of all.
We also now have the amended Cabotage Law allowing foreign vessels to call on multiple local ports, enabling importers and exporters to co-load containers in foreign ships entering and exiting the Philippines. No longer will corn shipped from California to Manila be cheaper than corn shipped from General Santos to Manila. By allowing the entry of competition, we will fully approximate the true costs of goods, addressing both the need to be competitive under asean integration and to fully benefit from supply chain linkages.
It is now in that same spirit that I urge you, our dear colleagues, to ensure that we finally pass Resolution of Both Houses Number 1. By amending the restrictive economic provisions of our constitution, we empower congress to enact laws that will attract the kind of investments that will reverse the de-industrialization and de-agriculturalization of our economy. Only then can we encourage locators and investors to expand our manufacturing sector, the area where the better paying decent jobs can be created. This is the best strategy to ensure that no Filipino will be left behind.
To the end of achieving peace, we are also committed to passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law. For far too long, the conflicts in the Bangsamoro have taken on different forms, rooted in passions that feed on discrimination and deprivations that are fuelled by poverty. We must address the longstanding grievances of the bangsamoro people by empowering them to fully provide for their self-expression and development. But this has to be complemented by clear and decisive legislative language to accommodate and empower not just the new majority of the muslims in the Bangsamoro, but also for all other groups whose lives, family and work are located in these regionally autonomous areas of the Bangsamoro.
There is also a sense of new possibility for our country as a wholeafter Mamasapano. As we work towards achieving real and lasting peace in Mindanao, we must also have the courage to finally come to peace with one another, and with ourselves, by exploring all avenues for peace, including the possibility of reopening peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF.
We know the lessons of history: that democracy and freedom and inclusive economic development do not instantly happen. The 16th Congress has already passed 40 other laws. We managed to accomplish this because we acted collectively and responsibly, prompted only by public interest. In the deliberation of these measures there was no majority or minority – only one united house.
It is therefore my hope and abiding trust that this congress shall pass the following additional priority measures before its term ends:
- the 2016 national budget
- the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology
- strengthening the Build-Operate-Transfer law
- the modernization of PAG-ASA
- the Freedom of Information Act
- the tax incentives management and transparency bill
- the Customs modernization and tariff act
- the national identification system
- the prepaid sim card registration
- the barangay officials welfare and incentives act
- the Philippine Immigration Act of 2015
- the law adjusting the amount involved, value of property or damage on which a penalty is based and the fines under the revised penal code
- the healthcare services price disclosure act
- and the law that will ensure that each school division has a sped center for our children with special needs
The House has already passed some of these on third reading.
We should also ensure the sustainable and productive use of our natural resources. Our actions determine the survival of the next generations. There is hardly time or room for error in this policy area. Denial will not move reforms. We must work vigorously to ensure that economic growth and sustainability are achieved by giving full attention to the following measures:
- land administration reform
- the land use policy bill
- the delineation of forest boundaries
I also urge the Senate to immediately pass the Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act and the Maritime Zones Act to protect our territorial integrity, even as this Congress continues to fully and unequivocally support the country’s claims over our exclusive economic zones in the West Philippine Sea at the arbitral tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.
Your representation in the 16th congress continues the process of renewal that good governance and economic resurgence seek to bring. This translates into the laws that will bring new possibilities for all Filipinos as individuals, as families, as sectors, and as communities.
This is admittedly the hard path but let me assure you that this is the better way. This path may be harder but is more hopeful; it is longer, but is more compelling; it is steeper, but is more worthy of our people.
I would like to end with a personal note. “Those who are members of the same household residing under the same roof” is considered family.
Dear colleagues, all of you, those who served with me in the 15th and 16th Congresses, you are my family.
Together, by listening to each other individually, critically, and understandably, we jointly craft and modulate the component strains of our peoples’ dreams and aspirations. Through this process, we will put together the component strains of our national anthem for 2016 and onwards. By your presence and hard work, we have made the house of representatives, truly the House of the Filipino people.
In less than ten months, the voters will decide, to whom they will pass their mandate. They will decide whether we are on the right track morally or economically.
Next year we will see a transfer of power. But today, we must recognize that there remains a last window of opportunity, to make a greater difference in the lives of our people. Let us therefore get to work as we near the end of our three-year mandate. We are on track to match, if not surpass, the achievements of the 15th Congress, and conclude with a golden harvest of legislation under the Aquino administration. Let us, in the end, earn a righteous and honored place in our country’s history and a cherished position in the hearts of our people.
I wish you Godspeed and my solidarity as we work together to pass our legislative agenda and meet the judgment of history in 2016.
Mabuhay ang Republika ng Pilipinas!
Mabuhay ang Sambayanang Pilipino! – Rappler.com