Palace, House confident SC will uphold TRAIN

By Jess Diaz

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“It’s his right as congressman,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said yesterday, referring to Zarate. “He represents a certain sector of our society. But you know, what is important here is that it passed the Senate and the Lower House… Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo, File

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang and leaders of the House of Representatives have expressed confidence the Supreme Court would uphold the approval of the so-called tax reform bill officially labeled Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN).

Leftist party-list Representatives Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers have announced plans to question TRAIN before the high court.

“It’s his right as congressman,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said yesterday, referring to Zarate. “He represents a certain sector of our society. But you know, what is important here is that it passed the Senate and the Lower House…

“And then, if he wants to question it then, let the magistrates decide for themselves, if his questions are really valid,” he added.

“The high court has to presume regularity in the ratification of the conference committee report on TRAIN on Wednesday night,” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, majority leader of the Commission on Appointments, said yesterday.

He said the tribunal would most likely go by the journal of proceedings the House would present in case leftist congressmen push through with their plan to question the bill’s approval.

“The journal will show the presence of an overwhelming number of members when the presiding officer ordered a roll call at the start of the session. That was the continuing attendance that would be reflected until the session was adjourned,” he said.

Albano pointed out that challenging the manner in which the TRAIN report was ratified would be an “exercise in futility.”

“Even in the remote possibility that the Supreme Court would find the ratification irregular, all we have to do is to reconvene and approve the report again,” he stressed.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House “validly ratified” the TRAIN bill.

He said if any member has a complaint, he could “go to the plenary, or if not contented, to the courts.”

Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman conceded that the Supreme Court would cite presumption of regularity in what the House did.

“But such presumption is rebuttable, and the circumstances at the time of ratification would show otherwise,” he said.

Zarate said the TRAIN bill was approved “despite the clear absence of a quorum and our strong objections on the floor late Wednesday night.”

“There were only fewer than 20 members present when the wrecker TRAIN was railroaded. This is a blatant violation of our rules, which provide that the measure ‘shall be ratified by a majority vote of the members of the House present, there being a quorum.’”

“Obviously the runaway train that would wreak havoc on our people with new burdensome taxes was not validly ratified and legally infirm,” he said.

Tinio said he counted only 10 members present.

“The brazen railroading of this TRAIN wreck on the poor exposes yet again the blatant disregard of the Duterte administration and its supermajority in Congress for even the most minimal standards of democracy,” he said.

He said the tax reform bill was supposedly approved while administration allies were partying with President Duterte at a luxury hotel in Manila.

The major provisions of the measure include the imposition of a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity over three years up to 2020 and hefty increase in the prices of other oil products like gasoline.

It would also bring tax relief for millions of taxpayers in the form of a lower income tax.

But its next effect is that taxpayers would pay an additional P130 billion a year.

Zarate said it is the P6 tax that would “inflict more hardship on our people because it will result in the increase of prices of almost everything.”

The Department of Finance, which proposed the bill, is satisfied with the final form approved by the House and the Senate before they started their month-long Christmas vacation.

Meager hike

 Meanwhile, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) has expressed dismay at the “meager” tobacco tax increase of P2.50 per pack annually until 2022 as provided for under TRAIN.

“The very small tax increase is both alarming and unsatisfactory because it is totally inadequate to further discourage youths from smoking and to generate revenues to finance the expanded universal health care in the medium to long term,” Sopaphan Ratanachena, tobacco tax program manager of SEATCA, said.

“This small but meaningless increase is a typical tobacco industry tactic to undermine effective tobacco control measures and should be vetoed by President Duterte before he signs the TRAIN bill into law,” she pointed out.

Ratanachena added the President’s veto will “signal to lawmakers the need for a much higher tobacco tax increase.”

Based on 2012 Social Weather Stations survey, a price of P10 per cigarette or P200 per pack would stop teenagers from smoking. She maintained that the Philippines’ 2012 Sin Tax Reform Law is often cited as a “shining example of international best practice, having significantly reduced tobacco use, especially among the youth and the poor.”

At the same time, the law is generating much needed revenues, bulk of which is earmarked for universal health coverage of poor families.

“However, health and economic experts agree that the substantial public health gains are being eroded by inflation and economic growth,” she said.

Ratanachena stressed that cigarette tax should be increased immediately from the current rate of P30 per pack to at least P60. She added this would lead to one million less smokers by 2022.

Every year of delay in implementing higher tax is estimated to result in 200,000 more smokers. Currently, tobacco-caused diseases kill more than 87,000 Filipinos annually. – With Christina Mendez, Sheila Crisostomo

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