Business as usual
(The Philippine Star) - December 31, 2017 - 12:00am

Now that Republic Act 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law has been signed into law by President Duterte, the business community, which for a long time has been waiting with bated breath, can finally heave a sigh of relief.

Any uncertainty is bad for business after all. Now that the dust has settled so to speak, business can proceed as usual, at least until the four other tax reform packages being planned by this administration are revealed, deliberated upon, and then approved.

The first package basically reduced income taxes, but imposed higher taxes on fuel, cars, tobacco, sugar-sweetened beverages, coal, cosmetic surgery, mining (copper, gold, chromite), a flat rate for estate and donor’s taxes, higher VAT threshold, among others.

The TRAIN bill could not have been approved in record speed had it not been for efforts of Congress.

The public seems to agree that Congress is doing a good job. In the latest SWS survey for the period Dec. 8-16, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’ net satisfaction rating improved from neutral to moderate, and from +8 in September to +14.

The first regular session of the 17th Congress performed exceptionally well, passing a total of 428 bills and resolutions. These include 30 bills that were signed into law. Among these are the TRAIN bill, free tuition in state universities and colleges and state-run technical-vocational institutions, expanded coverage of free emergency health care services for indigent patients, and free internet access in public places.

The various House committees have also been very active in conducting hearings in aid of legislation on issues like the alleged irregular use by the Ilocos Norte provincial government of its share in the tobacco excise tax, shabu smuggling at the Bureau of Customs, the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

 The House also took an active part in the bicameral meetings on the extension of martial law in Mindanao.

But a lot remains to be done, although House members are confident that with Alvarez at the helm, they can be achieved.

The House leadership is batting for the passage of the real Bangsamoro Basic Law which seeks to create an autonomous region for the Moros in Mindanao within the framework of the Constitution and is in the forefront of the proposed shift from the current unitary to a federal system of government that President Duterte has advocated and fully endorsed.

The Speaker is also pushing for the passage of a law that would allow the legal dissolution of marriage, even as has signified his intention to file a measure recognizing civil unions.

Many of the Speaker’s colleagues attest to a new kind of leadership that no longer suffers from quorum problems, Filipino time, under-the-table deals just to pass a bill, absences, days off. According to Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, Alvarez is the only Speaker who effectively disciplined House members, referring to the no-tardiness and no-travel during session days rules.

For his part, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chair of the committee on justice, believes that Alvarez is a leader who bases his decision on what is right and necessary. It will be recalled that the infrastructure budget of opposition congressmen amounting to billions was reallotted for free tuition in state colleges and universities and the salaries and perks of the military and the police, raising around P6 billion in the process.

What is right may not always be popular after all.

Time to let go

While the Duterte administration is looking for ways to improve telecommunications services in the country, the latest being the bid to look for a third telco player, we have the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) seeming to have a different agenda.

Just recently, the PCC announced that it has asked the Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision which basically affirmed the P69-billion acquisition by PLDT and Globe Telecom of the telco assets of San Miguel Corp. The Court of Appeals last October also barred PCC from reviewing the deal, saying it is already deemed approved.

The PCC said the CA 12th division erred in saying that the purchase agreement is deemed approved.

The CA in its ruling said that the PCC committed grave abuse of discretion and violated petitioners’ constitutional right to equal protection of the laws when it refused to accord the deemed approved status of acquisition despite substantial compliance with the PCC orders.

In granting the separate petitions filed by Globe and PLDT, the appeals court said the PCC disregarded the right to due process of the two telcos by forcing a full review of the deal when its authority only allowed limited review.

It will be recalled that at the time the deal was finalized, the implementing rules and regulations of the Philippine Competition Act (RA 10667) which also created the PCC were not yet in place. Under the interim rules governing the PCC at that time, the commission only needed to be notified of the deal which is considered deemed approved.

Despite this, PCC head Arsenio Balisacan insisted that there was no such approval, even as he insisted on a full review, asking PLDT and Globe to submit various documents and insisting that what have been submitted were defective in form and substance and that the

purported notification is not sufficiently compliant with the relevant requirements outlined in its circulars. The PCC also disregarded the approval given by the National Telecommunications Commission, specifically on the arrangement involving co-use by PLDT and Globe of the radio frequencies acquiring from SMC.

The CA court ordered the PCC to acknowledge the agreement as deemed approved by operation of law, even as it issued a writ of prohibition precluding the PCC from conducting a full review and/or investigation of the subject acquisition.

With a third telco about to come in, the PCC can sit back and relax and stop worrying that the PLDT-Globe-SMC deal will just cement the existing duopoly in the telco industry.

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