Bill to address learning gap prioritized for June approval

PHILIPPINE STAR/ WALTER BOLLOZOS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE LAWMAKERS have agreed to pass nearly two dozen priority bills by June, including one that seeks to boost the quality of education after a learning gap caused by a coronavirus pandemic, and several others that will advance agriculture, digitalization and defense.

The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) reached a consensus during a meeting at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday.

“Hopefully, [these bills] will be done by June, before the Senate break,” Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said in a statement after the LEDAC meeting. “We’re on track to pass all of these by June.”

Congress is hard-pressed to approve the priority measures within the year as lawmakers will soon have to prepare for the midterm elections in 2025.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in a statement said the proposed Academic Recovery and Accessible Learning (ARAL) Program bill and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Maximize Opportunities for Reinvigorating the Economy (CREATE MORE) bill have been included in the list of priority measures.

On Monday, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the CREATE MORE bill, which seeks to further lower the taxes imposed on domestic and foreign firms.

The proposed ARAL bill seeks to establish a national learning intervention program in response to the deteriorating quality of Philippine education.

“No less than fundamental transformation is required in our education sector to address longstanding issues that have resulted in low productivity and job mismatches for our workers,” NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said.

Citing latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022, NEDA admitted that “the quality of Philippine education has been falling behind those of its neighbors.”

Filipino students were still among the world’s weakest in math, reading and science, according to the 2022 PISA, with the Philippines ranking 77th out of 81 countries and performing worse than the global average in all categories.

Last year, the Labor department said the country had been lacking about one million skilled workers in engineering, architecture, and construction.

Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst, said the Philippines needs to ensure that it can produce quality and skilled workers if it wants to boost technology-based industries.

But more than passing laws that would aid in recovering learning losses, an investment in technology-driven infrastructure in Philippine schools should also be prioritized, he said.

“The refocusing towards tech has been existing for some time, but what is lacking has been the significant investment in actual tech infrastructure in the nation’s schools,” Mr. Ridon said via Messenger chat.

In his foreign trips, Mr. Marcos has been encouraging companies to consider the Philippines as they seek to cut risk and diversify their supply chains amid geopolitical tensions.

Meanwhile, the LEDAC also included several measures for passage by June, such as the proposed Real Property Valuation and Assessment Reform Act, Anti-Financial Accounts Scamming Act, value-added tax on digital services, amendments to the Government Procurement Reform Act, the Blue Economy Act.

The Philippines is now a few months away from the filing of candidacies for the 2025 midterm polls.

The two chambers of Congress had been locked in a months-long dispute amid the Marcos administration’s push to amend the country’s 37-year-old Charter. The proposed Charter change was not included in LEDAC’s latest list, at least based on official statements.

Nineteen of the LEDAC priority measures have already been approved on third and final reading by the lower chamber, House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez told Mr. Marcos at the LEDAC meeting.

“The House has passed all but three of all the LEDAC priority measures, having passed 56 bills out of the updated list now totaling 59 after the council added the ARAL and CREATE MORE bills,” the House leader said, based on a press release from his office.

The LEDAC list for June passage also includes the proposed Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act, Self-Reliant Defense Posture Revitalization Act, Philippine Maritime Zones Act, Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System, E-Government Act, and Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension of Military and Uniformed Personnel.

The proposed Enterprise-Based Education and Training Program Act, Open Access in Data Transmission Act and amendments to the Universal Health Care Act, and Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps were also added to the latest priority list.

Measures creating a Negros Island Region and a Department of Water Resources as well as a bill seeking to address solid waste problems by pushing for the development of sustainable innovations in the recovery, conservation, processing, treatment, and disposal of solid waste were also added to priority legislation.