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Congress ready to pass bill on tax exemption

The Senate and the House of Representatives expressed readiness yesterday to pass a bill that would exempt millions of minimum wage earners from paying income tax.

House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said the two chambers can finally approve the measure if the Senate speeds up action on it when Congress reconvenes on June 4-8.

"Approval of the bill is still possible if the Senate fast tracks it. We will just adopt their version and amendments. I am sure the President will sign the bill because she has been promising this tax exemption," he said.

He said the House approved its version of the proposed tax exemption before May 1, 2006.

"We approved it in time for Labor Day last year. The President wanted to sign it that day, but the Senate failed to approve it. It has not passed it until now," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo promised the tax exemption privilege early last year. She reiterated it last May 1.

For his part, Sen. Ralph Recto, who heads the Senate ways and means committee and who had endorsed his own version of the tax exemption bill, said he and his colleagues would give it priority when Congress reconvenes next month.

He said the measure has to be approved on or before June 8 or it would go through the long process of legislation again when the incoming Congress convenes.

Sought for comment, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said in a text message: "If the chair of the committee (Recto) is willing to push for it, we will calendar it (for floor discussion)."

Recto’s proposal is to exempt a married couple’s combined annual earnings of up to P288,000, or P24,000 a month, tax-free. This means that the proposed tax exemption would be enjoyed not only by minimum wage earners but by employees, both in government and the private sector, earning up to P12,000 a month.

Recto said if his version is approved, nine in 10 current individual income tax filers would have zero or reduced income tax.

To speed up approval of the bill, he suggested that the Senate shorten debates and proceed to the period of amendments "so we can deliberate on proposed changes that will be introduced by senators."

Nograles said salaried workers should blame senators if the present Congress fails to approve the tax exemption bill.

"Millions of employees would have enjoyed this privilege last year had the Senate not sat on it," he said.

He said the House and President Arroyo could not do anything about the inaction in the Senate "because that’s opposition territory."

"Even Ralph Recto and our other allies there were helpless," he said.

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