CONGRESS has ratified the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN bill a day before it was to adjourn for the Christmas break, but one militant lawmaker called it an “invalid ratification” as only 10 members of the House of Representatives were present in the plenary session.
The Senate ratified the bicameral conference committee report for the TRAIN—the Duterte administration’s key tax legislation—and other proposed bills on the 2018 national budget before it adjourned its session Wednesday night.
Under the 17th Congress’ legislative calendar, the Senate will resume its session on Jan. 15, 2018.
Led by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the Senate approved the bicameral report for the 2018 General Appropriations Bill or HBN 6215, on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The bicameral report for the TRAIN bill, or SBN 1592, was approved on Wednesday night, Dec. 13.
But ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, a member of the militant Makabayan Bloc, said what happened was “a total farce and travesty of so-called representative democracy.”
“With barely 10 people on the floor and despite my very clear objections due to obvious lack of quorum, the presiding officer and majority floor leader proceeded to adopt the final report of the tax reform bill’s bicameral conference committee, copies of which were not even on hand,” Tinio said.
The lawmaker said he would elevate the issue to the Supreme Court. Tinio questioned the quorum during Wednesday’s plenary session presided by House Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu.
The Palace, however, thanked Congress for ratifying the TRAIN bill and the P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018, two key measures it said would provide sufficient funding for the administration’s priority programs.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque noted that the TRAIN bill, together with other complementary measures to be passed early next year, would yield more than P120 billion worth of revenues during its first year of implementation.
He said these added revenues are essential for the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” Program that aims to ramp up government’s infrastructure spending, “with the end goal of easing congestion, spurring trade and investment, and reducing poverty.”
Revenues collected from the new tax package would be used to fund various social protection programs on health, education, and housing, Roque added in the Palace briefing.
However, Tinio said since there was no quorum and no actual vote was taken at the House, the ratification “is clearly invalid.”
“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.
Among other new regulations, TRAIN would impose a P50 per metric ton excise tax on coal manufacturers, both local and foreign, in the first year of implementation, P100 in the second year, and P150 in the third and succeeding years.
Presidential Decree 972 has provided that local coal is tax-free, including from excise tax, value-added tax and customs duties.
The coal tax issue was among the contentious provisions of the TRAIN, until both congressmen and senators agreed to raise the coal excise tax, which has been unchanged since 1976.
Quirino Rep. Dax Cua, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said the final version of the TRAIN bill was a product of thorough discussions between the two chambers.
“For the same reason that we kept the VAT exemption on renewable energy… these are both part and parcel of a wide-range of discussions on fiscal incentive,” Cua said.
Cua maintained the imposition of VAT and other taxes on coal manufacturers would be taken up in the second package of TRAIN.
The bill also imposes double the excise tax rates of all non-metallic minerals and quarry resources, and all metallic minerals including copper, gold and chromite from the current two percent excise tax to four percent; and on indigenous petroleum from the current three percent to six percent.
TRAIN, however, also proposes reducing the income tax rate of individual income earners, thus giving them higher take-home pay. It provides an exemption for the first P250,000 annual taxable income and raised the tax exemption for the 13th month pay and other bonuses from P82,000 to P90,000.
The bill also imposes higher tax on fuel and fuel products, brand new automobiles, tobacco products and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Early Wednesday, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in the special joint session of Congress and voted 14-4 in favor of extending martial law in Mindanao until Dec.31, 2018.
The Senate also approved Wednesday on third and final reading Senate Joint Resolution No. 11, which would raise the base salary of military and uniformed personnel starting January next year. It adopted House Joint Resolution 18 as an amendment to Senate Joint Resolution 11. With Macon Ramos Araneta and John Paolo Bencito