December 20, 2017

First off, let me say: I love trains. I love trains because they are effective, efficient, and green. Trains take people to their destinations. Trains take in a lot of people. And because of that, it is environment-friendly. But the TRAIN before us, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, is nothing like the trains I like. TRAIN all caps will not take us, the people, to its promised destination, to accelerated economic growth that would include the most vulnerable, impoverished, suffering Filipinos.

This representation disagrees on the passage of this measure on the grounds that the proposed reforms fall short in its expressed goal to create an inclusive economy, and benefit the working class and the poor. How? Let me count the ways:

Number one: The safety nets for the poorest sectors as proposed by Sen. Bam Aquino, that is, among others, direct cash transfers on revenue from fuel tax going to farmers and fisher folk and other marginalized groups, cannot be immediately implemented. They will immediately feel the pain of price increases without the relief necessary to tide them over. Ang mahirap daw ang makikinabang pero hindi sila ang inuuna.

Number two: The value-added tax that would have cushioned the effects of the excise tax on fuel is not lowered. In short, walang bababang presyo. Number three: Prescription drugs and medicines of only three illnesses are VAT-exempt. Exempting all prescription drugs and medicines from VAT, as previously proposed in the Senate version, would have been an opportunity to benefit the poor and vulnerable.

Number four: Fuel tax is increased. Much of the brunt of this tax increase will fall on daily commuters using our public transportation, as well as on our already underpaid, overworked, and un-secured jeepney and tricycle drivers.

We also ask: Our poorest of the poor, those who put food on our table, those who rely on a stable fuel price so that they may be able to earn from their agricultural produce, would they benefit from the TRAIN?

Government data show that 34.3% of farmers and 34% of fishermen live in poverty. Palaki nang palaki ang nawawala sa kanilang kita ayon sa kung gaano kamahal ang pagbyahe ng kanilang mga produkto papunta sa merkado. Not to mention the production costs that rely on fuel such as tractors, fishing boats, irrigation, among others.

Given all these, we regret to conclude that this TRAIN will be a greater burden on the poor. Mas konti na ang mabibili ng pera natin dahil sa TRAIN. And while the government asks for more money, it has some 500 billion pesos in unspent funds. With current low absorptive capacity, more money means more under-spending. That means inefficient use of taxes. To repeat, this TRAIN sadly does not meet its own goals. Instead, it burdens the poor and the working class. Thank you very much.