THERE are two significant bills that await action in the Palace and in Congress.
The public deem it important that the bills become laws before the present Congress adjourns for the presidential campaign.
The amended senior citizens law and the Freedom of Information Act (FIA) are two enabling bills now pending respectively in the Palace and the Congress, begging for attention and action before the sun sets on the Arroyo government.
The most important provision of the amended senior citizens bill that has already been approved in Congress and is now in the Palace reportedly awaiting signature by the President, is the exemption of the country’s thousands of elderly from paying value-added tax. The 20-percent price deduction benefits that the senior citizens get from the original law from the business community is nullified when the VAT is imposed.
Thus, in order to make government assistance to the nation’s elderly real and functional, it is important that they should be exempt from paying the VAT from their purchases, whether of food or medicines. But there is, however, the reluctance of some government officials over the loss of internal revenue income if the President signs the amended senior citizens law. The VAT loss is estimated to amount to millions of pesos.
Consequently, there is popular concern and pressure from the law’s beneficiaries to have the President sign the law immediately. Presidential spokesmen, however, explained that there is no truth to the talks that the President is reluctant to sign the amended senior citizens law because of the projected tax loss. It is just that the final version of the Congress approved bill has not yet been forwarded to the Palace for the President to sign.
On the other hand, in Congress, the bill, which embodies the implementing guidelines for the rights of the citizens to have access to information held by the government, awaits final ratification by both chambers in plenary. Its reconciled version has been approved by the bicameral committee of Congress.
The FIA is implementing a constitutional provision that has existed 23 years.
One member of the House said he has expectations that both the Senate and the House “will deliver a piece of legislation that has been enshrined in the Constitution but has been wanting of an enabling law—the right of citizens to access to information on matters of public concern.” All the members of the bicameral panel—three senators and eight members of the House—had reportedly signed the report last Friday.
Thus, both significant bills are on their final league of the journey towards their passage into law. What is needed here is the political will of the President, in the case of the amended senior citizens law, and the bicameral report in Congress for the ratification of the FIA bicameral report in plenary.
The concerned citizenry would like to see how seriously concerned their government is over the national welfare, more than its politics.