Priority bill to cut red tape gets stuck in signing process
MANILA, Philippines — A priority legislation meant to speed up projects got stuck in Congress for over a month now, lessening the likelihood the measure could speed up stalled infrastructure outlays this year critical to a last-minute recovery.
An enrolled copy of the so-called anti-red tape bill is awaiting signature from House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to “sign and transmit” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s desk for enactment, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a text message on Wednesday.
Velasco’s office has not responded to request for comment as of this posting. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has also not responded to request for comment.
It’s been more than a month since the House of Representatives passed House Bill No. 7884, a counterpart measure to Senate Bill 1844 that seeks to give Duterte power to remove licenses and clearances blocking critical public and private projects.
After that, the bill was supposed to go through a bicameral conference committee composed of House and Senate members to fix differences in the bill’s two versiosn, but Sotto said the Lower House decided to adopt the Senate’s style, so there was no need to convene. It is unclear what caused the delays in sending the measure to the Palace for Duterte’s signature.
But the importance of the measure for the Duterte administration cannot be denied. Shortly before the Senate passed the bill, Duterte himself certified it as urgent, allowing the Lower House to breeze through the measure’s second and third readings.
An offshoot of Duterte’s complaints on slow rollout of telco towers, lawmakers heeded the chief executive’s request for broader powers to drop permits, excluding environmental clearances, seen blocking the quick rollout of projects like roads, railway and even mining activities.
With less than 45 days remaining in the year, an enactment even by next week is not expected to accelerate ongoing outlays.
That presents fresh challenges for a government struggling to spend billions of pesos in outlays to catapult the economy out of a pandemic-induced recession. Infrastructure spending was down 10.5% year-on-year and was about 3% off target as of September, and Ibarra Paulino, executive director at Philippine Constructors Association, was pinning his hope on the promises of fewer red tape.
“Building permits takes a while to get, as well as occupancy permits. Most of the LGUs (local government units) mess around with the right of way acquisitions,” Paulino said in a recent phone interview.
The private sector is also waiting. While talks with the Anti-Red Tape Commission is ongoing to remove unnecessary clearances in real estate, Rosie Tsai, president of Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, another industry group, said a law would be a permanent fix to speed up the process.
Currently, Tsai said developers rolling out a single project would have to secure 87 licenses by submitting over 300 documents to various agencies. “It would make our life easier,” she said in a separate phone call.
However, not all are optimistic the bill would make a difference, including the mining sector where tedious applications for environmental licenses would proceed as they are not included in the scope of the legislation. The industry, dented by Duterte’s attacks for environmental violations, had likewise faced resistance from local states over potential environmental damage.
“We have several projects stuck in the pipeline. We cannot fast-track the environmental (permits) so in that sense, there’s really no effect,” Ronald Recidoro, executive director of Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Inc., said.
Cid Terosa, senior economist at University of Asia and the Pacific School of Economics said, the delay in enacting the bill is a lost opportunity for the economy to get better.
“Obviously, the delay in the transmittal of the anti-red tape bill will stall the creation of economic momentum that the economy direly needs,” he said in a text message.