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Senate, House begin ‘difficult’ task of finalizing tax reform bill

Camille Elemia
Senate, House begin ‘difficult’ task of finalizing tax reform bill
Congress has only 6 session days left to approve the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), which is eyed for implementation on January 1, 2018

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate and the House of Representatives on Friday, December 1, began deliberations of the bicameral conference committee on the tax reform bill to thresh out differences between their respective versions.

Congress has only 6 session days left to approve the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) before it adjourns for the Christmas break on December 15. Once the bicam finalizes the bill, the Senate and the House have to ratify it before President Rodrigo Duterte can sign it into law.

With the two versions starkly different from each other, legislators are expecting lengthy debates and discussions on the measure, originally targeted to be implemented by January 1, 2018. Congress has so far scheduled bicam sessions until Tuesday, December 5.

Senate ways and means committee chair Juan Edgardo Angara said they would begin discussions of non-contentious issues to “build up small victories.”

“Hindi maiiwasan talaga na may pagkakaiba ng pananaw. Kung di kami magka-agree ngayon, may next week pa naman (You can’t avoid differences in view. If we can’t agree now, we still have next week),” Angara told reporters on Friday.

The House and the Senate have differing tax rates on automobiles, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fuel. The Senate version proposes lower levies.

The Senate version also contains provisions that are not in the House version, such as taxes on mining, coal, cosmetic procedures, and the exemption of prescription drugs and medicines from value added tax.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said that the bill is headed into a “tough battle” in the bicam.

“The bicam could prove to be the real battleground for the passage of the TRAIN because there are numerous disagreeing provisions between the House of Representatives and Senate versions,” Drilon said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said that the proposed taxes on fuel and sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as coal taxes, will affect the masses.

“We will not finish today, for sure. That’s the role of the Senate, to lessen the impact on consumers. Tax reduction will be paid by Class D and E. We’re giving away P140 billion in income taxes, we’re taking back P280 billion gross from the public, karamihan niyan D and E (mostly D and E),” Senate President Pro-Tempore Recto told reporters.

The Department of Finance said in its official Twitter account that it is eyeing the submission of the bill to Malacañang by December 11 to implement the measure on January 1.

Angara, for his part, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will pass the measure on time. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com