Work double time

November 30, 2016

While her colleagues are preoccupied with public hearings on controversial national issues “in aid of legislation,” Senator Loren Legarda has been literally working double time. This is not to praise her because she does not need any. But I just found out from official press releases issued yesterday from her office that she is currently handling two important legislative measures.

According to her office, the Senators approved last Monday night in marathon sessions the proposed 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill. As chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, Legarda is shepherding the approval of the GAA bill.

Thus, the Senate and the House of Representatives convened starting yesterday as bicameral conference committee to reconcile the differences in their respective versions of the proposed 2017 national budget worth P3.350 trillion.

The 2017 GAA bill would be the first budget law under the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Also yesterday, her office furnished us a copy of her sponsorship speech for the proposed Senate Resolution No. 241, entitled “Resolution Concurring in the Ratification of the Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).” The Resolution was prepared by the committee on foreign relations under Committee Report No. 11 and submitted on Nov. 22. Legarda is the vice chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee.

In her sponsorship speech, Legarda impressed upon her Senate colleagues the significance of the Philippines joining the AIIB. Like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, Legarda pointed out, the AIIB is a multilateral lending institution, owned by sovereign-member countries, which aims to promote economic development in Asia. It also aims to foster economic development and promote regional cooperation.

According to her, the AIIB offers concessional rates that are: comparable to the rates of World Bank and the ADB;  better than many of the country’s bilateral partners’ lending rate; and lower than the commercial borrowing rates locally.

Based from government estimates, the AIIB can provide an annual financing window to the Philippines of about $200 million to $500 million, she cited. In the end, she said, the Philippines can see a 400% to 1,150% return on investment of the country’s required paid-in capital of $196 million in five years.

Legarda cited the Philippines is the 57th prospective founding member of the AIIB, the last to have signed on in December last year. Forty-eight have already attained full membership, including Australia, France, Germany, India, South Korea, and Russia. All ASEAN countries have signed on, with the Philippines and Malaysia as the only ASEAN countries that have yet to deposit its instruments of Ratification.

“We have only until Dec. 31 of this year to make this submission and to pay our initial capital contribution,” Legarda stressed.

To further bolster her arguments, Legarda enumerated the benefits that the Philippines will reap from AIIB membership, including, among other things, additional source of financing to meet the infrastructure requirements by both the government and the private sector.

While it may be a hard-sell for Legarda to convince the Senate ratification of the country’s membership to the AIIB, it would complete the mission of the state visit last month of President Duterte to Beijing.

It is actually Senator Allan Peter Cayetano who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee but who has been apparently too busy tagging along with President Duterte in the latter’s travels here and abroad. The Senate committee on foreign relations has been given to Cayetano in preparation to his imminent transfer to Duterte’s Cabinet next year.

Cayetano ran but lost in the May 9 elections as Duterte’s vice presidential running mate. However, under the country’s existing laws, a losing candidate cannot be appointed to the Executive Branch for at least one year after he or she run in the elections.

During the May 9 presidential campaign, then Davao City Mayor Duterte disclosed he is grooming Cayetano to become his Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary.

This is why Cayetano has always been accompanying the Chief Executive in all his state visits as member of the presidential delegation. Cayetano will take over from incumbent DFA Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. who agreed to assume the Cabinet post while waiting for Cayetano’s eventual taking over from him.

I bumped into Cayetano a few weeks ago and teased him about his being hard to invite to attend to our weekly breakfast forum. Apologetic, Cayetano told me he is always being asked to attend meetings at Malacanang Palace. “At times, our meeting with the President ends up almost at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Cayetano quipped.

While Cayetano is shuttling to and from Malacanang, Legarda sponsored the Senate foreign relations committee report for the AIIB and started steering for its approval at the plenary yesterday. Practically wearing two hats yesterday, Legarda defended also at the same time, the administration-certified priority urgent measure on the 2017 GAA bill along with the proposed accession of the Philippines to the largely China-owned AIIB.

If there is one Senate ratification that Legarda would sink her teeth into, it is her advocacy for the Philippines to ratify the Climate Change Agreement. A United Nations champion for climate change and disaster risk reduction, Legarda has been at the forefront of the country’s climate change advocacy.

President Duterte initially rebuffed the Climate Change pact but later on agreed to its ratification. The Chief Executive warned anew the other night he would withdraw from the Climate Change agreement if its funds will be mismanaged. Totaling $200 billion, the funds are supposed to help vulnerable countries like the Philippines to cope with climate change-related adaptation measures.

Legarda is cut out to work double time on her climate change advocacy.

Source: Philstar