‘Higher inflation should lead to fuel tax suspension’

Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star
�Higher inflation should lead to fuel tax suspension�
“Our inflation rate is like a runaway train and there’s already widespread anguish for government to do something more drastic to stop this,” Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives prodded the government anew yesterday to suspend fuel taxes under the controversial Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law as inflation hit 6.7 percent last month.

“Our inflation rate is like a runaway train and there’s already widespread anguish for government to do something more drastic to stop this,” Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said nine months of inflation since January this year have caused untold suffering among Filipinos.

“The administration should better stop downplaying the 6.7-percent inflation rate. It can no longer deny that the surge in prices is caused by TRAIN,” Alejano said, noting that immediate and serious actions to suppress the rising prices must start with the suspension of excise taxes on fuel.

“Worries on possible revenue loss could be addressed through more efficient tax collection,” Alejano said.

In a statement, opposition senators composed of Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Antonio Trillanes IV, Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, said the administration cannot continue insisting that high inflation is not a problem.

Militant and labor groups likewise expressed belief that the government is in denial when it comes to the effects of TRAIN law on prices of goods and services.

“Economic managers have no intention of suspending the second round of fuel excise taxes despite gas prices reaching P60 per liter. The promised unconditional cash transfer, a palliative that in itself is enough only for a handful of meals, has not been fully or properly implemented,” the senators said.

They said it is time for the government to provide concrete and immediate solutions to the persistent rise in the price of goods and services and to do this without the usual politicking.

?The senators said the government should start by making cheap rice available to all Filipinos by doing away with the exorbitant NFA retailers’ fees for the sale of NFA rice in the supermarkets. 

They also called for the suspension in the implementation of the second round of fuel excise tax increase, which would kick in next year. 

 With the promised cash transfer for poor families and the transport sector still not released in full, the senators called for its immediate distribution and increase this so that recipients would be able to actually feel the impact. 

 They also urged the administration to consider proposals to lower the value added tax rate from 12 to 10 percent.

 “Investigate all allegations of official misconduct and hold the corrupt accountable,” they said.

?“When the national house is burning, our people need leaders who can stop the fire, or to show them the way to safety, not leaders whose priority is to sow intrigue and hurl insults,” they added.

?The opposition, which has recently been linked to an alleged plot by the communists to oust President Duterte but which was denied later by the military and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, said there should be enough of the “paranoia,” noise and distractions as the people need a “way out of this hardship” now.

“We need a government that truly works; one that responds and addresses our needs, not one whose idea of solving problems is to silence those who point (them) out,” the senators said.

?In a separate statement, Hontiveros said “if there is anything that is destabilized right now, it is the economy.”

“Instead of going after students and schools, he should devote his time and energy to addressing the daily burden of our countrymen and women,” Hontiveros said. 

Baguilat said the cash-based budgeting system should temper state spending and “should make the suspension of the excise tax collections easier to bear.”?               

“As we enter the season of giving, not doing much except to suppress dissent and blaming market forces or other country’s policies for the people’s suffering will be the height of insensitivity,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate also hit the “witch-hunting” and “phantom conspiracies” as he pointed out that inflation would further go up in the coming months because of the Christmas season, among other factors.

Rep. France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers said administration and military officials “invented” the alleged Red October plot to oust President Duterte to divert public attention away from high inflation and the suffering it is causing Filipinos.

Move fast

Labor and militant groups also urged the government to move fast and said the economic managers were a disappointment in failing to temper inflation.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said “lowering VAT on oil products should also be considered as it is grossly oppressive that government generates windfall revenues from the misery of the people every time oil prices go up.”

He added that rather than focus on the imaginary threat of a “Red October,” the Duterte regime should focus on the very real problem of a “poor October and an even poorer November and December.” 

The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) and Nagkaisa also criticized the government for failing to provide safety nets for workers against inflation rate.

In separate statements, the two groups said the impact of inflation is aggravated by the continued hoarding of rice and other basic commodities, which the government has failed to address. 

“Smugglers and hoarders are treated with kid-gloves,” ALU-TUCP spokesman Alan Tanjusay said.

He noted that the administration’s economic managers are not looking hard enough “at the complex, grassroots poverty now ravaging our people.”

Nagkaisa president Rene Magtubo said government efforts to flood the market with basic goods to tame prices were too late because of the inefficency and ineffectiveness of its officials in key agencies and departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority.  

Shortage of supply

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo likewise urged the administration’s economic managers to act fast, noting the  shortage of food products is largely to blame for continuing price increases.  

“As we were analyzing the budget, we realized that from six percent of the budget in my time, agriculture went down afterwards to 1.5 percent. No wonder we have shortage of food because after my administration, in the previous administration to this one, the growth of agriculture became negative so there is really a correlation between what you do in the budget and what happens to the sector,” Arroyo said. – With Sheila Crisostmo, Rhodina Villanueva, Paolo Romero

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