THE 19th Congress opened with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the 17th president. The 19th saw a first cousin of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Rep. Martin Romualdez, taking the speakership and a Mindanaon (Bukidnon) and from sugarlandia (Negros Occidental), in Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, become Senate president. Both are consummate politicians. Romualdez is a lawyer, while Zubiri has finished an agribusiness degree and has a master's degree in environment and natural resources management.
Romualdez (59 years old) is from the Visayas, and has represented the first district of Leyte since 2019, after completing three full terms from 2007-2016. Under the 18th Congress, Romualdez was elected majority leader. Zubiri (53 years old) started his career as a House representative from 1998 to 2004. He ran and won in the Senate race in 2007, only to resign in 2011 after being elected majority leader in 2008.
Zubiri's political career was said to have ended on Aug. 3, 2011 when he resigned during a privilege speech, over what he said were "unfounded" accusations of election cheating. "Without admitting any fault and with my vehement denial of the alleged electoral fraud hurled against me, I am submitting my resignation as a duly elected senator of the Republic of the Philippines in the election for which I am falsely accused without mercy and compassion."
Zubiri ran again for senator in 2013 and lost. He won in 2016 and became majority leader. In the recent May 2022 elections, Zubiri finished eighth with 19 million votes. Who would have thought Zubiri would become the uncontested Senate president in the 19th Congress? If the Marcoses are getting their redemption, Zubiri rose to the challenge while performing the national canvassing for the president by announcing his intention to seek the Senate presidency in May. By June, Sen. Cynthia Villar had withdrawn her plan to secure the Senate presidency and backed Zubiri. It took 12 years to get to the top position and redefine his political career going into 2028.
There is a tradition in both chambers to reserve the first 10 or 20 measures to the leadership of the chamber. In the case of the House, the first measure filed was by the speaker; in the Senate, it was by Sen. Loren Legarda, the second ranking senator in the May 2022 elections. She is currently the president pro tempore in the 19th Congress.
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The first measures filed in both chambers are solutions to problems attributed to the pandemic. The first bill filed in the House seeks to assist micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The first bill filed in the Senate seeks to provide tablets to all public students from primary all the way to tertiary level, or an internet allowance for those who already have a device.
House Bill 1 in the 19th Congress was filed with Romualdez, together with his wife, party-list Rep. Yeda Romualdez and Rep. Jude Acidre, and his nephew and the President's son, Senior Majority Leader Sandro Marcos (District 1, Ilocos Norte). The measure is known as the "Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery Act," or "Guide."
Guide attempts to strengthen the capacity of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) to provide needed assistance to MSMEs. The measure expands the credit programs of the DBP and LandBank to assist affected MSMEs to meet their liquidity needs. Both banks are directed to expand their credit and rediscounting facilities to affected MSMEs in agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing and service industries. The measures likewise adopt the SPAV process of years back by creating a special holding company (SHC). Equity participation in SHC may be held by qualified private sector investors with DBP and LandBank to maintain at least a majority ownership over the SHC until such time that they have recovered their investment. The SHC is intended to be a major player in the financial and capital markets by providing aid to strategically important companies with solvency/liquidity issues brought about by the pandemic.
In the 2020 List of Establishments of the Philippine Statistics Association (PSA), a total of 957,620 business enterprises are recorded as operating in the country; 952,969 of these are MSMEs and 4,651 (.49 percent) are large enterprises. Micro enterprises constitute 88.77 percent (850,127) of total MSME establishments, followed by small enterprises at 10.25 percent (98,126) and medium enterprises at.49 percent (4,716).
Senate Bill 1 was filed by Legarda. The bill is known as the "One Tablet, One Student Act of 2022." The measure clearly lays down two things to happen in blended learning: stable internet connection and reliable gadget. Today, the internet is a right, and I hope the providers are listening and seriously taking into consideration their important role in the community and in education. The PISO internet is not the way to go. Or sitting by the canal of one's neighbor to catch an open internet should not be the case. If the private sector cannot provide what its franchisees are supposed to do, then local government units (LGUs) should be able to operate their own internet, allowed to have their own franchise and allocated a bandwidth during classes as a redundant protocol at the local level.
There are 27 million elementary and high school students, and 1.6 million students enrolled in state universities and colleges and local universities and colleges, or a total of 28.6 million — and this number does not even include teachers. Experience in the field is such that an internet allowance is needed to connect to the internet.
Both measures can be designed in such a way that national and local funds can provide counterparts and incentives so that it is not just a national directive but a complementary yet holistic approach is taken. In the case of MSMEs, the local governments can suspend the payment of business permits and taxes for three years so that enterprises are given the allowable financial air to breathe. Exemptions from taxes at the national level and filing of GIS before the Security and Exchange Commission can be made to aid financial recovery to those who are willing to jumpstart their business again. On the part of one tablet, one student, local governments can strengthen their internet connection around schools and use barangay (village) centers as learning hubs connecting each via a mesh built on wireless internet. No need to build towers; use the existing buildings in the locality enhancing line of sight, and link the different barangay thereby creating an internet community mesh. This way, the internet becomes a service done by LGUs at the barangay levels for public students.
Ensuring connectivity creates a unique solution to class sizes and infrastructure limitations in public schools. Blended learning is a leapfrog for both the teachers and the students and their parents. It is a jump that assures several skills and behavior among the education stakeholders. By converting barangay centers into learning hubs, a public good is enhanced. Mandating the barangay to reach out to the community ensures the redefinition of their roles in development.
Congress should fast-track passage of measures that respond to the problems created by the pandemic. Those should be the priorities in their first 100 days, if not their first regular session. The One Tablet, One Student program can even be included in the national expenditure program of the Marcos administration, a low-hanging fruit.
Instead of the proliferation of the pay-as-you-go on appointments, the so-called best and brightest should first attend to solving problems brought by the pandemic at the household and community levels. Don't be a problem to the President. You were appointed to do your job and to do it well. And Mr. President, "you cannot expect loyalty from people who will do anything for money."