Angara’s predicament

 

WITHOUT him wanting it, Senator Sonny Angara has suddenly found himself under intense scrutiny and immense pressure after President Duterte implied in his recent SONA that he was not doing enough to hasten the passage of the administration’s proposed tax measure.

The President has taken Angara to task in his capacity as chair of the Senate ways and means committee, warning that his chances in the next elections are in jeopardy if he will not ‘behave accordingly’.

President Duterte’s proposed tax reform for acceleration and inclusion (TRAIN) was already approved at the House of Representatives last May 31, before Congress’ first regular session adjourned but is yet to be passed in the upper house.

 

Under Pressure

Senate sources said that even weeks before the President’s SONA, Angara was reportedly already feeling the heat, so to speak, to the extent that he was already contemplating of giving up his chairmanship.

Veteran legislator Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he could sympathize with Angara as the latter’s role in pushing for the passage of the said bill could cost him the Senate seat being a reelectionist senator in the 2019 midterm polls.

“Kawawa naman siya, baka ma-Recto siya dahil remember, ang VAT (value-added tax), pinasa nya, nakatulong sa economy but the Filipinos did not realize then na tutulong talaga sa economy ang ginawa ni (Sen.) Ralph (Recto) pero parusa sa kanya, natalo sya eh,” Sen. Lacson said.

He was referring to the time when Sen. Recto lost in the polls in 2007 which was widely attributed by political analysts to his authorship of the expanded VAT (eVAT) law.

Sen. Angara was perceived to have received a veiled threat from no less than the President himself when the Chief Executive issued a marching order to the Senate to have his tax reform package passed into law in full and in haste.

Failure to do so, the senator said, would prompt him to resign from being chair of the ways and means committee.

“I’m just the chairman, may version tayo (of the bill but) at the end of the day, ang masusunod diyan, yung majority of the senators, kung ano ang sa tingin nila ay tama,” he said.

“Sa akin kasi, you serve at the pleasure of your colleagues. You’re elected by your colleagues, your colleagues chose you as the chairperson” he added. 

 

Public Backlash

If left with no other option, the senator said he is considering giving up his chairmanship in the said committee and have Sen. Gregorio Honasan take his place instead, Senate insiders said.

Sen. Honasan’s term is due to end on 2019 and he has expressed his desire to retire from the Senate after he steps down two years from now.

The palace sponsored tax measure aims to exempt from paying personal income tax those who earn P250,000 and below.

The tax break for low-income earners, which will result to P140 billion of foregone revenues, is intended to be recoup through introduction of new and higher taxes on certain goods and services.

The bulk of the proposed amendments in the existing tax laws, however, are seen stir public backlash as these are perceive to be anti-poor.

The President’s tax reform package is seen to make low-cost and socialized housing, which is the market of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), unaffordable with the proposed imposition of the 12% VAT.

Currently socialized and low-cost housing are VAT-exempt along with electric cooperatives. 

House Bill No. 5636 will also remove the VAT exemption on lease of residential units with a monthly rental fee of P10,000 and below.

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as softdrinks, powdered juices, instant coffee, sports drinks, cereal and grain beverages and other non-alcoholic drinks that have added sugar will also imposed with excise tax of P10 to P20.

Additional taxes on fuel and petroleum products are also being eyed to help enable the government generate P9 trillion in the course of the five years or P1.7 trillion yearly, as these will help fund the President’s so-called big ticket items, which are mostly infrastructure projects.

 

Reservations

This early, as initial public hearings have already been conducted by Sen. Angara on TRAIN, a number of his colleagues have also expressed reservations on the proposed tax measure.

Senators Cynthia Villar and Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, both re-electionists like Sen. Angara also opposed the lifting of VAT on certain good and services which they said as anti-poor.

 

Compromise 

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III has come to the rescue of Sen. Angara when, during Wednesday’s majority bloc caucus at the Senate, he moved to have the bill taken up by the committee of the whole.

Sen. Sotto said a number of their colleagues, even from those in the majority bloc share the sentiment or perspective of Angara, in having the Executive agree to a compromise on the measure, given that a number of those included in the said tax reform package are seen as burdensome to low-income earners.

“Alam naman niya na marami sa amin pareho rin ng thinking nya tungkol dito sa mga bagay na ito. So hindi lang basta-basta madaling ipasa ng buo yun eh,” he said.

The lower house version, which had already been transmitted and being deliberated upon by Angara’s committee “needs a lot of tinkering,” the senator said.

 

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