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Marcos tells advisors he will certify E-Governance bill as urgent, backs RCEP

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. signaled his intent to certify as urgent a measure that will digitalize the bureaucracy to his business-sector advisors.

The Palace also announced that Mr. Marcos is pushing the Senate to act on the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

Mr. Marcos made his intent to certify as urgent the E-Governance bill in a Jan. 12 meeting with the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC).

The certification is “a vital step” in building “a digital nation,” according to a statement issued by Henry Aguda, PSAC Digital Infrastructure Sector lead and Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) chief technology and operations officer.

“It also provides the impetus to the PSAC Digital Infrastructure Sector’s work plan,” he added. “(We) look forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on every Filipino.”

The bill remains pending at committee level in the House of Representatives.

It seeks to create “a digitally empowered and integrated government that provides responsive and transparent online citizen-centered services for a globally competitive Filipino nation,” the PSAC said.

The bill also encourages public-private cooperation in digitalizing the operations of government agencies.

An urgent certification from the President means the bill can be passed on third reading immediately after second reading.

The PSAC has put forward its proposals to improve the bill, centering on the creation of an enabling environment to foster innovation and promote and support emerging technologies and startups.

It has also recommended the “integration of inter-agency efforts and integration in citizen frontline delivery of services.”

It also wants the inclusion of the education sector in policy formulation, ensuring the collaboration between education agencies and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) “in the development of curricula for the ICT Academy established under the Act.”

The PSAC is also proposing to make government digital payment systems a two-way system by introducing digital disbursement services, and to allow the use of private payment and disbursement systems.

The private sector’s proposals also include the designation of a Chief Information Office in every government agency and the creation of a national Chief Information Security Officer.

The government should also “promote data sovereignty alongside the expansion of National Government Data Centers, ensuring data of Filipinos are for Filipinos” and “institutionalize public-private partnerships on e-government to leverage expertise and speed up implementation.”

“All seven recommendations were accepted by the Technical Working Group (TWG) formed by the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology, and incorporated in the forthcoming substitute bill,” the PSAC said in the statement.

RCEP
Among the bills that the President has certified as urgent include proposals seeking to professionalize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, establish the Maharlika Investment Fund, restore the Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and create the National Service Training Program.

Also on Wednesday, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Mr. Marcos has backed the ratification of RCEP in the Senate.

The Senate failed to ratify RCEP last year, with senators citing the lack of safeguards for the domestic agriculture sector. The free trade agreement involves the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and dialogue partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

During the campaign, Mr. Marcos had called for a review of RCEP to ensure the agriculture sector is adequately protected.

“If approved and entered into by the Philippines, we would be part of the biggest free trade agreement in the world, given that intended members of the partnership comprise around 30-40% of the world’s gross domestic product,” Emy Ruth D. Gianan, who teaches economics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said via chat.

“On surface it seems harmless, but what the Senate should really examine are provisions and rules on labor and workers’ rights, environmental protection, and intellectual property,” she added. “These were earlier issues raised when RCEP was initially proposed. These also were main comparative points relative to its ‘rival’ FTA deal,” she added, referring to the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Ms. Gianan said the Senate has the important role of ensuring that as the Philippines integrates itself into global supply chains, “our welfare and rights are not sidelined in exchange for private profit.”

Leonardo A. Lanzona, an economist at the Ateneo De Manila, said the ratification of RCEP “should have been done at the very start of the administration when our foreign exchange depreciated.”

RCEP, as in all trade reforms, will require structural and institutional reforms “in order to ensure that export diversification that follows will benefit all sectors,” he said via chat. “The goal is to maximize the use of our domestic resources, particularly labor, and to exploit our comparative advantage.”

“This can cause negative consequences on the existing goods that we are already exporting and importing,” he added. “Nevertheless, the country should push for the continued transformation that leads to export diversification, regardless of its impact on the established industries.”

Also being pushed by the Palace include bills strengthening the regulatory functions of the Maritime Industry Authority, amendments to a 1995 law that requires the salt industry to iodize its products, and revising the anti-agricultural smuggling law signed in 2016.

As of Jan. 18, 10 out of the 20 priority legislative measures that Mr. Marcos spelled out during his first address to Congress in July have been passed by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate, the PCO said, citing the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office.

These measures include the proposed Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act, the proposed Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery Act, the proposed Real Property Valuation and Assessment Reform Act, the proposed Internet Transaction Act or the E-Commerce Law, and the proposed Condonation of Unpaid Amortization and Interests of Loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries.

Bills creating the Medical Reserve Corps, the Philippine Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the Virology Institute of the Philippines, and an amendment to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law were also named as priority legislation.

“The remaining 10 State of the Nation Address priority bills are at the level of the committees in both houses of Congress,” the PCO said.

These include the bills seeking to create the Department of Water Resources, rightsize the bureaucracy, create a National Land Use Act, modernize the budget system, provide an enabling law for the natural gas industry, amend the 21-year-old energy law, reform the pension system for military and uniformed personnel, and revise the defense law.

“There are bills certified as urgent by the President and other Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council-priority bills that have been passed by the House but are still pending in the Senate,” the PCO said.

The LEDAC-priority measures include bills creating a new passport law, establishing the Leyte Ecological Zone and Eastern Visayas Development Authority, promoting a waste treatment technology, extending free legal assistance to military and uniformed personnel, revising the national apprenticeship program, and creating a magna carta for village health workers. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza