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Supreme Court seen as next stop to derail TRAIN

The major provisions of the measure are those that would impose a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity over three years up to 2020 and a hefty increase in the prices of other oil products like gasoline. File

MANILA, Philippines — As in the case of the extended martial law, the Supreme Court will be the next battleground to derail the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) or the tax reform bill ratified by Congress.

“We will challenge the approval of TRAIN before the Supreme Court,” Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers said yesterday.

As this developed, health advocates urged President Duterte to veto the provision on low tobacco tax rate before signing the TRAIN into law this year.

His Makabayan bloc colleague, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, said: “We are now studying all our options, including going to the Supreme Court, to question and stop this railroaded anti-people tax reform package.”

The two are claiming that the House violated its own rules in approving the tax reform bill on Wednesday night.

However, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the measure “was validly ratified.”

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Fariñas said if any of his colleagues has any complaints, they could “go to the plenary, or, if not satisfied, to the courts.”

Zarate said the TRAIN bill was approved despite the clear absence of a quorum and their strong objections on the floor.

“There were only fewer than 20 members present when the wrecker TRAIN was railroaded. This is a blatant violation of our rules, which provide that the measure ‘shall be ratified by a majority vote of the members of the House present, there being a quorum’,” Zarate said.

“Obviously the runaway train that would wreak havoc on our people with new burdensome taxes was not validly ratified and (is) legally infirm,” Zarate added.

Tinio said he counted only 10 members present.

“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.

He said the tax reform bill was supposedly approved while administration allies were partying with Duterte at a luxury hotel in Manila.

The major provisions of the measure are those that would impose a P6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity over three years up to 2020 and a hefty increase in the prices of other oil products like gasoline.

It would also bring tax relief to millions of taxpayers in the form of lower income tax.

But its net effect is that taxpayers would pay an additional P130 billion a year.

Zarate said it is the P6 diesel tax that would “inflict more hardship on our people because it will result in the increase of prices of almost everything.”

The Department of Finance, which proposed the bill, is satisfied with the final form approved by the House and the Senate before they started their month-long Christmas vacation.

Sin tax 

Meanwhile, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) senior economist Jo-Ann Diosana said the dedicated funding for universal health care program as espoused in the 2012 Sin Tax Law was removed from the new tax bill, “relegating the dream of every poor Filipino household to get improved free health care even for outpatients out in the cold.”

The proposed law, however, still  provides funding for tobacco-growing regions.

“The bill ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate was a TRAIN wreck that will put the health of Filipinos at an even worse state than it is now if the President will not step in decisively,” she said.

Diosana noted the marginal increase in tobacco tax rate will not significantly reduce the number of smokers. 

By next year, the amount of excise tax that will be imposed on cigarettes under the current Sin Tax Law would have been P31.20. The TRAIN tobacco tax rate increases this to only P32.50, or an increment of P1.30 per pack. 

“These rates will favor only Philip Morris,” she said.

The AER also found out that the ratified TRAIN bill may replace the earmarking of 85 percent of incremental revenues for Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and other health programs with the new earmarking provisions in the proposed measure.

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