By Butch Fernandez, November 7 2018; Business Mirror


Image Credit to Business Mirror

SENATORS said on Tuesday Congress is not likely to wrap up plenary deliberations and approve the Duterte administration’s second package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, also known as TRAIN 2, before lawmakers adjourn for their traditional Christmas recess from December 15 to January 13.

“I doubt it,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said on Tuesday when asked if the senators can fulfill expectations for Congress to pass the measure, dubbed the “Trabaho” bill in the House of Representatives, before their year-end break.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto also voiced doubts shared by his peers that the controversial tax package—which mainly aims to cut corporate income tax but at the same time rationalize fiscal incentives—can muster enough votes to be approved within the year.

“I am not even sure if it is Duterte’s wish,” Recto told the BusinessMirror, adding: “The President has not conveyed [such] request to Congress.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, expecting lengthy plenary debates when lawmakers tackle the proposed 2019 budget bill targetted to be passed before year-end, also ruled out passing the Duterte administration’s second major revenue-raising measure before the Christmas recess.

“It [TRAIN 2] is still in the Committee on Ways and Means,” said Drilon. “I expect
the debates on the 2019 GAB [General Appropriations Bill] to start week of November 19 until the December recess.”

Sen. Francis G. Escudero also held a dim view of the notion that Congress can pass TRAIN 2 this year. “I don’t think so. It will be very difficult and, to my mind, close to impossible.”

Opposition Sen.  Francis N. Pangilinan, in a text message, also saw a slim chance for passage before Congress breaks for Christmas recess. “That is highly unlikely,” Pangilinan said.

The House had passed its version of the Trabaho bill on third and final reading, but Senate deliberations even just at the committee level were overtaken by mounting concern from various sectors that railroading TRAIN 2, at a time that the impact of the original TRAIN law on inflation was still being assessed, was not a good idea.

Concern about stalling TRAIN 2 had been rooted in the possible impact on the programs and services meant to be funded by the billions in additional revenue it was meant to bring, but senators said earlier they were responsible for ensuring constituents received the safety nets promised under the TRAIN law before even considering passage of TRAIN 2.

Asked about the prospects of  TRAIN 2, Sen. Joel Villanueva indicated that senators have a full agenda prior to adjourning for their Christmas recess and  will likely be tied up with other equally urgent measures.

“In this Congress, I highly doubt it,” said Villanueva, who, as labor committee chairman, is on the receiving end of workers’ complaints about inflation gouging their bottom line. “We are about to tackle the budget on the floor, and by next year we all know about the election fever. Time is not on TRAIN 2’s side; plus [there are] a number of issues [and] we still have yet to hear a clear explanation on why we really have to do it.”

Villanueva told reporters that as it is, the administration’s TRAIN 2 bill is “dead in the water,” adding that many questions are being raised on the administration’s tax measure.

In separate interviews, other senators signalled a desire to also seek guarantees from TRAIN 2’s Executive branch endorsers that they will do everything to avoid a repeat of TRAIN 1’s “blindsiding the nation.” The senators had earlier said economic managers who made inflation impact assessments underestimated external factors, such as the global oil price hike and rice supply shortage, which compounded the inflation impact of TRAIN.

Over the weekend, Sotto admitted that fellow lawmakers are hesitant to sponsor TRAIN 2, even as several senators signalled their intent to raise questions when the administration’s revenue measure is submitted for plenary deliberations.

According to Villanueva, “the TRAIN 2 bill is too radical, it caused panic” in affected sectors, including semiconductor and electronics, prompting investors to consider “going elsewhere.”

In an interview, Villanueva suggested the need to “rationalize provisions” of the money measure, raising doubts that there may not be enough votes to pass TRAIN 2 if onerous provisions are not amended.

“We are also calling on economic managers to suspend new tax impositions and let the people feel the growth first,” the senator said, adding: “We are still hoping that the second round of the TRAIN law will be suspended.”