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Senate defers hearing on proposed new department

UPON the motion of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, chaired by Sen. Joel Villanueva, deferred the hearing on the proposed new department of overseas Filipinos until the Senate tackles Senate Bill No. 244 or the Rightsizing the National Government Act that will address the issue of a bloated bureaucracy.

Drilon’s motion was referred to the Committee on Rules.

“In deference to the position of our Senate President on this important policy issue, which he made of record in open session, and consistent with the policy pronouncements of the President in his State of the Nation Addresses, I respectfully propose that the hearing on the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos be deferred until Senate Bill No. 244 is heard before the proper committee,” Drilon said in his letter to the committee’s chairman which he also read at the start of the hearing.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III had manifested on the floor that he would want to see the passage of Senate Bill No. 244 or the Rightsizing the National Government Act, which he authored, before the Senate further expands the bureaucracy. The Senate President made that statement after Senator Drilon pointed out during the budget deliberations that the bureaucracy is getting bigger, to the prejudice of more productive spending on infrastructure, transportation and connectivity programs as the government spends more on Personnel Services than on Capital Outlay.

For the Senate chief fiscalizer, now is not the right time for the chamber to prioritize the passage of the Department of OFWs, citing the urgent need for the country to pool its limited resources to buy much-needed Covid-19 vaccines.

“The push for this new department comes as the government struggles to source funds for COVID-19 stimulus measures and vaccine procurement,” Drilon said. The government will need to allocate P73 billion for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and immunize around 60 million Filipinos.

Drilon, however, clarified that he maintains an open mind on the creation of a department of OFWs.

“We are open to the discussion of this proposed measure but it is our submission that it should be deferred given the situation that we are in today,” Drilon said.

“Is this the right time? I believe this bill can wait for a more opportune time,” he added.

In his manifestation, Drilon raised the issue of a bloated bureaucracy.

“During our session last 11 November, I raised the issue of a bloated bureaucracy that has forced the Congress to allot a significant portion of our budget to Personnel Services,” Drilon told the panel.

Under the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), around P1.3 trillion of the proposed P4.5 trillion spending outlay is allotted for personnel services, Drilon noted.

The senator recalled that the Rightsizing Bill was mentioned by the President as a priority measure in his State of the Nation Addresses in 2019 and 2017.

The Rightsizing bill was identified as a part of the legislative agenda in the Philippine Development Plan for 2017 to 2020, he added. It was likewise one of the priority measures identified in the Common Legislative Agenda for the 17th Congress, which was approved by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, he noted.