A PALACE official lashed out at opposition leaders on Saturday for saying that the Aquino administration lacks compassion for Filipinos who are the highest taxed people in Southeast Asia, but suffer sub-standard public services.
“They should never ever say that the government has no heart, that the government has no malasakit [compassion],” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in an interview on government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
“In the six years of our government, everything will be done to help those who are at the fringes of society,” he said, adding that opposition leaders are only making political appeals for votes in next year’s elections.
Lacierda hit Senator Ferdinand Marcos and his cousin Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez for claiming that the Aquino administration does not want to push a tax cut bill in Congress because they don’t care about the sufferings of Filipinos.
Marcos, the son of former President Ferdinand Marcos, is running for vice president while Romualdez, the son of former Ambassador Benjamin Romualdez, is seeking his first term in the Senate.
“Everybody is saying ‘I’m in favor of lowering this, I’m in favor of lowering that’ because it’s campaign season. Elections are already near,” Lacierda said.
“But we are government. We have to be responsible. We recognize there’s a concern. We recognize that some people would like to lower the tax rates and we’re saying, ‘we’re all together in this,” he said.
But the public should not expect a “Christmas gift” like a new tax rate cut law, as suggested by Marcos, because the government wants to review the tax law “comprehensively.”
“Again, we are all in favor of greater take home pay but we need to review the tax laws comprehensively,” he said.
Lacierda also lashed at Romualdez for saying that the Aquino administration has no compassion for people who continue to endure sub-standard public services while economic growth has slowed down because of government underspending.
Lacierda said the Aquino administration has invested P75 billion for its Conditional Cash Transfer Program which financially assists 4.4-million families, or over 20 million Filipinos.
The coverage of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has also been expanded under the Aquino administration, Lacierda said.
“Sabihin mo kay Martin Romualdez, hindi ba iyan malasakit? [You tell Martin Romualdez, is that not compassion?],” Lacierda asked.
“You tell me if that is not malasakit. Don’t go out there saying that this government does not care for its people. We have invested so much government revenues,” he added.
Lacierda slammed Romualdez a day after presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe admitted she was disappointed Romualdez could not be included in her senatorial slate because the congressman has been fighting for many of the things she too wanted, especially help for his constituents in Eastern Visayas who were devastated by Super Typhoon “Yolanda.”
Poe, the presidential frontrunner in the most recent opinion surveys, also asked the public to support someone like Romualdez because his platform of government is anchored on good governance, accountability and transparency.
But Romualdez’s House allies came to his defense and said it was a congressman’s duty to fight for his constituents and Romualdez’s advocacy for reasonable income tax rates proves he is worthy of the Senate.
“[That is the] height of insensitivity,” 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello told The Standard in response to Palace’s admonition against Romualdez.
“This administration has the propensity to cater to the convenience of big business rather than addressing the needs of our marginalized countrymen,” Bello said. “Sino ba talaga ang boss nila? Ayala o ang masa? [Who are really their bosses? The Ayalas or the masses?]”
Bello said his party-list, the Unang Barangay Ating Paunlarin with 60,000 members, will support the Romualdez senatorial bid because he can help improve the justice system and address the education and health needs of barangays.
Abakada Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, for his part, said the issue on lowering the income tax rates was a valid election issue in any election in any country and should not be brought down to the personal level.
De la Cruz said Romualdez was merely echoing the sentiments of millions of Filipino workers as well as other policy makers who want to provide a relief to an overtaxed public that suffers some of the worst public services in the world.
Nonetheless, Lacierda insisted that lower income taxes should not be turned into an election issue and lashed at Ibon Foundation executive director Jose Enrique Africa who criticized Lilberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II for downplaying the tax issue.
“The government, the executive, has the political levers to actually push it if they want to. If they’re not pushing it, that’s a matter of choice,” he said.
“The biggest reason that the government is not willing to reform the income tax system is that they’re taxing the rich, and they are also taxing the poor,” he added.
Lacierda hit Africa’s remarks and said there is no need to debate on the need to reform the tax laws.
“There is no debate we need to reform the tax laws, but we remind the IBON Foundation, we were able to generate so much revenue without even raising, without introducing new taxes, except for rationalizing the sin tax,” Lacierda noted.
He cited the increase of revenue is due to the improved tax collections and making sure that leakages have been plugged.
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