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Clamor mounts for oil tax freeze before Christmas

Duterte’s allies in Senate call for end to price hikes

Administration senators favor the suspension of a looming increase in the excise tax on fuel as a way of easing the burden of consumers who have been reeling from the continued increase in prices.

Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services, asked the Department of Finance to carefully study the suspension of excise taxes that are scheduled to go up in January 2019 under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law.

She said the DOF should take into serious consideration the sentiments of consumers, particularly the poor.

Senator JV Ejercito said the interests of consumers should take preeminence in the implementation of laws.

“I urge government to implement the TRAIN law provision that provided for the suspension of fuel excise tax increase when the average Dubai crude oil price based on Mean of Platts Singapore for three months prior to the scheduled increase of the month reaches or exceeds $80 per barrel,” he said.

“While we understand the need of government to increase revenues, [we] need to prioritize the protection of the public who are bearing the brunt of these high prices,” he added.

“It is precisely the protection of the public, especially the poor that led the Senate to approve a version of the TRAIN law that has lower excise taxes at P1.75 and a safeguard that suspends the excise taxes when inflation breaches 4 percent. This safeguard, however, was taken out in the bicameral conference committee version,” he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate version of the TRAIN bill made it mandatory for the President to suspend the collection of the excise tax if those conditions were met, but this became only an option when the measure went through the bicameral conference committee.

But Lacson said the President has already expressed willingness to suspend the next excise tax hike for fuel.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also took note of the TRAIN law provision for the immediate suspension of excise taxes on petroleum products if prices become too high.

“If TRAIN’s collection is very fast, so too should pulling the brakes when gas prices are increasing rapidly,” Recto said.

Recto also said the weak peso against the US dollar and soaring prices of oil “form a volatile mix.”

Even if world prices for oil go down to $50, the cost to import it would still go up, if the peso continues to depreciate.

Senate committee on ways and means chairman, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, said the impact of the looming excise tax on petroleum products on poor families is a concern to most of the senators.

“We are concerned that the lower income sectors might suffer. They may not be able to handle it. If it’s just us, we can manage a price increase of P10 per day.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, ruled out the possibility that the Senate would push for legislation to suspend the excise tax on fuel, saying such a measure must emanate from the House of Representatives.

But opposition Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the Senate must act now to roll back excise taxes on fuel.

He said the increase in self-rated poverty is yet another indication that the Senate should move on legislative action to address rising prices of food and other goods by suspending the excise tax on fuel under the TRAIN law.

In its third-quarter survey, the Social Weather Stations noted an increase in self-rated poverty in September to 52 percent or 12.2-million families. This is four points higher than the 48 percent or 11.1- million families in June 2018.

Aquino urged his colleagues to support the minority’s Joint Senate Resolution No. 15, which aims to suspend the excise tax under the TRAIN law and rollback the tax on fuel to Dec. 31, 2017 rates.

“This is a chance to show in word and in action that the Senate wishes to ease the burden of our countrymen and remove the excise tax on petroleum products,” Aquino said.

“It’s only 74 days before Christmas. Perhaps, this can be the most beautiful gift we can give our Filipino families,” he said.

On Wednesday, minority senators–composed of Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Antonio Trillanes IV, Leila de Lima, and Aquino—submitted Senate Joint Resolution No. 15.

The resolution cited the need for the urgent intervention of the Congress to mitigate the inflationary effects of rising fuel prices by suspending the increases in excise tax on fuel under the TRAIN law.

READ: Oil tax freeze mulled; belt tightening pushed

READ: Oil tax freeze snowballing

Topics: Grace Poe , Department of Finance , Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law , JV Ejercito , House of Representatives , Senator Juan Edgardo Angara
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