House fast-tracking budget okay

Martin Romualdez and Royina M. Garma

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Friday attended the budget briefings and hearings to guarantee the quick passage of the proposed 2020 P4.1 trillion national budget.

“Under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s leadership, it is our commitment to pass the national budget on time. We are working double time,” said Romualdez, who chairs the House Committee on Rules, after attending the House Committee on Appropriations separate budget briefings and hearings of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Observers said it was the first time that the chairman and his deputies at the House Committee on Rules were actively seen participating in the budget deliberations.

On Thursday, Romualdez along with House leaders led by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano attended the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) briefing which presented the Duterte government’s fiscal program, growth targets and macroeconomic assumptions.

In the afternoon budget hearings, the appropriations committee chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab heard the presentations of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

During the hearing, PCSO Vice President and General Manager Royina Garma backed the proposal to exempt the agency from paying taxes.

It was learned from Garma that PCSO paid P16 billion in taxes and only provided P9 billion for its charity program.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. shared the position that PCSO should be “tax-free” to help the poor.

“Bakit kayo nagbabayad ng tax? Since you are a charity organization, you should not be paying taxes,” said Pichay.

Garma also said that the Small Town Lottery (STL) remains the biggest revenue source for the PCSO which President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte ordered closed due to alleged massive corruption. On Thursday, President Duterte lifted the suspension on STL operations.

She also supported a measure that will remove the mandatory contributions of the PCSO to several government agencies and organizations, which reached P13.92 billion from 1998 to June 30, 2019.

From January to June 2019, Garma bared that STL generated P12.6 billion or 52% of PCSO’s income followed by P10.9 billion or 41% from lotto games while its remaining income was sourced from Keno and the Sweepstakes.

Garma added that PCSO lost at least P1.25 billion worth of revenue following the month long suspension of STL operations.