Palace eyes LEDAC meeting on Feb 28

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2011 05:40 PM | Updated as of Feb 08 2011 01:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines -President Benigno Aquino III will push for 17 priority bills when he meets leaders of Congress in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) tentatively on February 28, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said on Monday.

Lacierda said the priority bills include the postponement of elections at the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the creation of a Department of Housing.

The responsible parenthood bill was not included in the list of priority bills since the Palace is still conducting talks with Catholic bishops. The measure could still be pushed inside Congress once talks are completed and the draft bill is finished.

Lacierda said input from the dialogues can be included in the final draft of the bill. He said this does not mean that Malacañang is giving in to the Catholic Church since the government will retain its policy that couples should be given information on all forms of family planning.

“That’s the whole idea of holding a dialogue, to listen to their views. We have made our position very clear with them: We would maintain the 5-point statement but we would like [to know] their views as well," he said.

He added: "We are going to finish the dialogue. Whatever input that we have there without necessarily moving away from our position of providing access to both natural and artificial planning methods will also be part and parcel of the responsible parenthood bill."
The Whistle-blower's Protection Act  was also not included in the list of priority bills. Lacierda said a version of the bill is pending before the Congress, which can be passed along with amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Also not included in the list of priority legislation is the Freedom of Information bill, which stalled in the previous Congress.

“There are certain issues on the Freedom of Information bill. Number one, the President believes in the constitutional right to access to information. That is a given. However, there are certain concerns that must be addressed. Yun medyo sensitive yun, Pinag-aaralan,” Lacierda said. He did not elaborate.

Postpone ARMM polls

On the other hand, the government wants to postpone the ARMM elections later this year and synchronize it with the 2013 mid-term elections.

In Malacañang's proposal, incumbent ARMM officials will only be allowed to stay in office until September 30, 2011. Afterwards, officers-in-charge barred from running in the 2013 polls will be assigned to the local government units.

Lacierda said synchronizing the elections will result in more savings for the national government. He said the officers-in-charge (OICs) will clean up the political system in ARMM since those officials will have no political ambition.

He said the transition government will help avoid massive cheating and command votes in ARMM.

“As we know, ARMM has been a region where there’s such a thing as command votes and that has been manipulated a number of times in the past elections. That’s something we need to address. The whole idea is to come up with a better system of governance in the ARMM,” Lacierda said.

He said the proposal actually came from ARMM.

Malacañang has tasked the Mindanao Development Authority to conduct roundtable discussions about the proposal.

He said that while the proposal does  not need the approval of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the rebel group will be informed about it as part of the peace negotiations.

17 priority bills

Twelve of the 17 priority bills are as follows:

·      An act creating the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD), defining the mandates, powers and functions, providing funds therefore, and for other purposes
·      An act rationalizing the nightwork prohibition on women workers, thereby amending Articles 130 and 131 of PD 442, as amended otherwise known as the Labor Code of the Philippines. (Lacierda says this includes expanding the exemptions for the prohibition in view of the call center workers.)
·      An act enhancing the curriculum and increasing the number of years for basic education, appropriating fund therefore, and for other purposes
·      An act providing a definite targeting strategy in identifying the poor, amending RA 7875 otherwise known as the National Health Insurance Act of 1995 as amended, and for other purposes
·      An act further amending certain sections of RA 6957, as amended by RA 7718, entitled “An Act authorizing the financing, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure projects by the private sector, and for other purposes,” appropriating funds for the said purpose and for other purposes
·      An act rationalizing the grant and administration of fiscal incentives for the promotion of investments and growth and for other purposes
·      An act to establish the archipelagic sea lanes in the Philippine archipelagic waters, prescribing the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircrafts exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage through the established archipelagic sea lanes and providing for the associated protective measures therein.
·      An act to define the maritime zones of the Republic of the Philippines
·      An act to strengthen the modernization of the AFP, extending the implementation of the modernization program of the AFP, instituting necessary reforms in the AFP…
·      An act resetting the date of the regular elections for elective officials of the ARMM, synchronizing the ARMM elections with the synchronized national and local elections of 2010…
·      An act instituting reforms in land administration
·      An act to promote financial viability and fiscal discipline in GOCCs and to strengthen the role of the state in its governance and management to make them more responsive to the needs of public interest and for other purposes (Senate Bill No. 2640)

The 5 remaining bills at the drafting stage include the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, Water Sector Reform Bill, reorganization of the National Food Authority, amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.