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The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has recently proclaimed the new batch of senators for the 18th Congress. In under two weeks since election day, all votes have been transmitted and finalized despite delays and questions of transparency.

The Magic 12 is led by reelected Senator Cynthia Villar and former presidential candidate, Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares with 25,283,727 and 22,029,788 votes, respectively. Also joining the Senate fold are Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, Senator Pia Cayetano, former PNP Chief Bato Dela Rosa, Senator Sonny Angara, Senator Lito Lapid, former Ilocos Governor Imee Marcos, former MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, former Senate President Koko Pimentel, Bong Revilla, and Senator Nancy Binay.

According to the data in the COMELEC transparency server, a total of 46,956,830 million votes were registered. Reports show that this is the first time in 80 years that there are no seats given to the opposition slate represented by Otso Diretso.

On TRAIN 2, Mining

The legislative branch is expected to act on several key policies that will greatly impact the Philippine economy and the business sector. These include the new tax reform package or the TRABAHO Bill that will implement several changes in business taxes and incentives in the Philippines. As of the last quarter of 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte is mulling over an important regulatory policy on mining after the elections due to its severe environmental impacts.

In terms of regulatory and taxation policies, a major point of concern is the TRAIN 2 or the TRABAHO bill which reelected Senator Pia Cayetano and newly-elected Senator Bong Go openly endorsed. Senate President Tito Sotto also voted in favor of the new proposed tax program.

The rest of the new senators’ position on the matter is still undetermined joining the likes of senators: Sherwin Gatchalian, Dick Gordon, Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Kiko Pangilinan, Joel Villanueva, and Miguel Zubiri. However, it should be noted that Villar, Poe, Binay, previously voted in favor of the enacted TRAIN Law.

Key Liberal Party figures in the Senate such as Senator Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Risa Hontiveros and detained Senator Leila De Lima is opposing the proposed taxation program.

Moreover, mining, one of the country’s biggest industries, is currently hurdling a proposed ban. In a statement in late October, Duterte stated that the sector contributes Php 70 billion a year to the government coffers. According to the most recent report from the Philippine Statistics Authority, mining and construction machinery contributed to the increase in investments at 11.4 percent. The industry decline of 0.1 percent QoQ in 1Q 2019 was also attributed to the slowdown in its subindustries including mining & quarrying, manufacturing, construction, and electricity, gas & water supply.

While the majority vote on the regulation is prematurely undetermined, 6 senators have already voted in favor of the ban while Pacquiao, Marcos, and Tolentino rejected it. 

On Labor in the Philippines

In terms of employment, the Senate seeks to push forward the end of contractualization in the Philippines. Out of the 24, 15 senators take the affirmative position against ENDO that is being widely implemented by major corporations and companies. The votes of Revilla, Cayetano, Dela Rosa, Lapid, Villar, Drilon, Lacson, Pacquiao, and Sotto remain undetermined. Villar also authored the Telecommuting Act, providing employees in the private sector an alternative work arrangement through technology.

Increasing wages has also been the utmost priority of most candidates such as TRAIN Law champions, Angara and Pimentel, as it lessened income taxes, and Cayetano who pushed for higher salaries for public school teachers. Pimentel also pushed for an increase in the base pay for the police and military while Binay championed salary adjustments for government employees.

On the other hand, Revilla has been actively pushing for a minimum wage hike in all regions. In the barangay level, he joins Go and Marcos in pushing for additional and permanent benefits for barangay officials including honoraria or salary increase.

Improving working conditions is also one of the top priorities. Cayetano and Poe pushed for the extended maternity leave and 10-day paid bereavement leave, respectively. Tolentino is working on the reintegration of qualified and willing senior citizens to the workforce and pushes for an increase in retirement benefits. Similarly, Lapid also pushed for a better retirement and insurance plans for the Filipino workforce and amended the Internal Revenue Code that removes taxes from bonuses and benefits.

More jobs for Filipinos

The legislative branch is moving to take advantage of the influx of investments and trade in the country to create more opportunities for the Filipino people. Senator Francis Tolentino wants to drive foreign investments towards the manufacturing and industrial enterprise.

The Build, Build, Build Infrastructure program is also seen as a channel to create more opportunities. According to Villar, they expect more construction jobs to come in. Binay is also pushing for “Filipino first” priority given the 12-billion worth of investments and trade deals between the Philippines and China alone.

Poe also sees the need to amend the Public Service Act to help boost the economy. She is also keen on lifting the restrictions on foreign equities when it comes to utilities, allowing for the entry to the third telco company in the country.

Senators Sonny Angara and Lito Lapid want to jumpstart the careers of working students through the JobStart Philippines Act. To supplement, Angara is pushing for the Magna Carta of Workers in the informal economy, Philippine Green Jobs Act and the Jobseekers bill while Lapid focuses on the creation of the Magna Carta for micro, small and medium enterprise.

To promote equal opportunities, Cayetano is proposing the creation of the database for Senior High School and College graduates. Go is also expanding the potential of the Malasakit Centers to provide more jobs by partnering it with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The job and skill mismatch will also be addressed as Marcos proposes the development of technical and vocational courses. Lapid and Villar will be focusing on future legislation towards creating more livelihood and skills. This is a logical move given that in a 2017 issuance, there are already 3,532,477 Certified Workers registered with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

To meet the demand, TESDA reported that additional 17,000 jobs opened for technical-vocational graduates and other job seekers along with the high demand for skilled contractors involved in the Build Build Build programs in August 2018 alone. The government agency is also honing skills training to direct foreign investments to the automotive industry. In the report, it is one of the country’s priority sectors after it contributed 4% share in the GDP.