Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday scored government representatives for their failure to fully implement the unconditional cash transfer program intended to shield low-income Filipinos from price increases due to the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.
Senator Bam Aquino, meanwhile, called on the government to prioritize poor Filipinos and support the suspension of the TRAIN Act, particularly the excise tax on fuel.
Aquino made the statement as he filed Senate Bill No. 1798 that seeks to amend the controversial tax reform program that will suspend the collection of excise tax on fuel once inflation rate breaches the prescribed “target range.”
“We must protect Filipinos from the rising prices of goods and services,” said Aquino, one of four senators who voted against the TRAIN law’s ratification.
Aquino noted that millions of Filipinos are being affected by the increasing prices of goods like rice, sardines, electricity and fare. He stressed that the government needs to play an active role in managing inflation and ensure that our countrymen can survive the rise in prices.
In his measure, the excise tax on fuel under TRAIN will be suspended when the average inflation rate surpasses the annual inflation target over a three-month period.
“It is our responsibility to be flexible and responsive when the weight of inflation becomes too heavy for the poor Filipino families to bear,” said Aquino.
During the TRAIN’s deliberation, senators approved Aquino’s amendment to include a safeguard where the implementation of TRAIN Law will be stopped once inflation rate breaches the “target range.”
However, the provision was not included in the bicameral conference committee and the approved version of the measure.
Gatchalian said the UCT is an issue for the senators.
“We all know dispensing 200 pesos to 10 million households will be a big challenge, but we were assured that by 2018, all beneficiaries would receive their part,” he said.
“My point here is we make decisions based on the information and assurance you are giving us,” he added.
If you can’t keep your word, Gatchalian said they may have had arrived at a different decision.
“Now, you are telling us that you are to complete this by September?” said Gatchalian, the chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, during the committee’s second public hearing on TRAIN-driven inflation and potential mitigating measures.
Gatchalian was referring to the guarantee made by the Department of Finance during the Senate deliberations on TRAIN last year, assuring the senator that the P24 billion UCT program would be in full swing by the January 1, 2018, the effectivity date of the TRAIN Law.
However, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said at the hearing that the government has only been able to distribute aid to around 4 million households.
He said the new target is to complete disbursement to the remaining 6 million households by the end of September.
As of the moment, DSWD is looking for ways and means to cut down the payouts.
However, Gatchalian said they have physical constraints that they have to consider.
For example, he said there are areas that are hard to reach, and transporting money – physical money – to the nearest Landbank branch takes a lot of logistics planning.
“And this is something that we need to consider,” explained Noel Macalalad, DSWD Assistant Secretary for Policy and Plans.”
He said the P24 billion allotment for UCT is broken down to three beneficiary programs: the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4.4 million households), the Social Pension Program (3 million households) and Listahahan Program (2.6 million households).
Gatchalian said that the P200 per household allotment is insufficient to cushion the poorest 30% of the population, as prices of diesel and gasoline products are expected to spike by 2019 due to new excise taxes imposed by TRAIN.
“I’m thinking of adjusting it from 200 [pesos] to about 450 to cover others. If you look at the poorest 30% of our population, their biggest consumption, 70% of their expenditure, is on food. Inflation is at its peak. This means, you have to cover the increase in food prices of the lower 30% of the population,” the senator said.