Speaker Belmonte underscores eradication of corruption as key to inclusive growth

MANILA, Dec. 16 (PNA) — Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. on Wednesday stressed the indispensability of good governance and the rule of law to win the fight against corruption.

“To us in the House of Representatives, eradicating corruption is essential in achieving inclusive growth,” Belmonte told the Third State Conference on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) held at Malacañang.

The House leader took cognizance of the continuing efforts of the Office of the Ombudsman “for continuing to coordinate the government’s efforts in keeping us mindful of our respective roles in attaining full compliance with our commitments under the UN Convention Against Corruption.”

“In our own journey as a nation, we have been witness to the way corruption has whittled away the economic benefits we were supposed to enjoy from the fruits of our hard work,” the Speaker noted, citing that even first world nations who are economically-stable would confirm that “corruption is a far insidious enemy than we have thought it to be!”

Even as the 16th Congress is devoid of luxury of time, Belmonte confidently declared that “from day one, we have consistently and mindfully pursued a legislative agenda that is anchored on a growth strategy of good governance and the rule of law.”

He then enumerated a significant list of legislative responses of instilling good governance with the passage of the following:

1) The GOCC Governance Act which ensures that the operations of Government-owned and controlled corporation are carried out in a transparent, responsible and accountable manner, thereby ensuring their financial viability and instilling fiscal discipline;

2) Doing away with the practice of the re-enactment of the national budget by passing the annual General Appropriations Act on time, as required under the Constitution, and corollary to this is the increase in the budget of the Office of the Ombudsman;

3) To provide relief for the public sector workers , the move to raise the tax exemption on their 13th month pay from the current P30,000 based on the price index to Php82,000, thus strengthen their purchasing power which has been eroded by inflation;

4) The soon to be enacted amendments to the Salary Standardization Act, expected to improve their competitiveness vis-à-vis their private sector counterparts and help curtail corruption in the bureaucracy;

5) The passage of the Philippine Competition Act (Anti-Trust), now Republic Act 10667, which prohibits and penalize anti-competitive agreement, the abuse of dominant market or supply positions, and anti-competitive mergers, aside from addressing a whole range of sectors from power, to water, telecommunications, broadband connectivity and transportation.

Likewise, the Speaker cited the recent enactment of the Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act (TIMTA), which is another institutional administrative reform that distinctively marks the performance of the House of Representatives in promoting good governance.

“Through the TIMTA, we will promote fiscal accountability, develop means to promptly measure the government’s exposure in the tax incentives granted and to monitor and review their economic impact and thus optimizing the social benefits expected from them,” Belmonte explained.

As had been recommended by UNCAC, is the Third reading passage by the House of Representatives of the National Bureau of Investigation Modernization Act to enhance the capacity of law enforcement agencies in investigating graft and corruption cases and in actual enforcement, Belmonte continued.

To give more teeth to enforcement and prosecution of graft and corruption cases, Belmonte noted the enactment of R.A. 10660, a functional and structural reform measure aimed strengthening the Sandiganbayan – creation of two (2) additional divisions with three (3) members each thereby increasing the number of members or Justices from 15 to 21.

RA 10660 also prescribes a new procedure for decision by majority vote, and transferred minor cases to the Regional Trial Court which constitute around 60% of the cases being filed and heard by the Sandiganbayan.

“Also noteworthy is the measure extending the prescriptive period on graft cases from 15 to 30 years which is now scheduled for bicameral Conference Committee discussions,” Belmonte revealed, adding that “in line with the UNCAC’s priorities, the House has also passed the bill defining and penalizing influence-peddling which now awaits the concurrence of the Senate.”

Two more UNCAC-identified measures have been approved by the House Justice Committee and now under consideration by the Committee on Appropriations relative to their funding provisions, and these are (1) the proposed protection to whistleblowers from reprisal and harassment, providing them financial or monetary rewards, and granting them immunity from administrative, civil and criminal liability; and (2) the measure which strengthens the existing witness protection program (whistleblower’s act).

“I am however conscious of the fact that much remains to be done,” the House leader declared, as he cited “significant UNCAC provisions and recommendations that are worthy of more focused study and scrutiny.”

Belmonte said the House is ready and will appreciate receiving proposals on various vital issues like: a)amendments to the statute on bribery, b) the Philippine Extradition Law, c) the Asset Recovery covering State-to-State relations covered by the Convention. D) the definition and coverage of the term “conflict of interest” to inform and guide the implementation of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the matter of “forfeiture”.

“Indeed there are reforms that currently reflect the public’s current aspirations, but which need to be given time to percolate, so to speak, and to be refined by the benefit of both hindsight and introspection,” Belmonte explained.

The Speaker cited the proposed Freedom of Information Act, the proposed Anti- Political dynasty Act, and the proposal to provide exceptions to the application of the Bank Secrecy Law as those that need to be given time to percolate.

The Speaker expressed confidence “in the fact that certain concepts ultimately reach a point of traction – that point when ideas, purpose, and need all come together – to create the momentum for change.”

While conscious that “much remains to be done,” the Speaker ended his message with these lines: “I dare to say we have done well. As we end yet another year of service to our people, Let us celebrate our victories and what we have achieved in their behalf – confident of the fact that we are more emboldened, more resolute because we have done well.” (PNA)