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Duterte now 'open to amendments' on tax reform bill – senators

MANILA, Philippines – A week after calling on the Senate to pass his version of the tax reform bill in its entirety, President Rodrigo Duterte has now softened his stance, as he is now open to amendments.

Senate leaders confirmed this on Wednesday, August 2, after Duterte met with lawmakers in Malacañang on Tuesday, August 1.

"[He] told us we have elbow room. He just wants us to coordinate with the executive department officials," Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a text message.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Duterte has accepted that the Senate is a collegial body and that it needs "flexibility" on the issue. But the President's economic managers, he said, are insisting on their version.

"The President accepted that the Senate will retain flexibility insofar as finally deciding the amounts of taxes. My impression is that the President left it to the good judgment of the legislature, in consultation of course with the Department of Finance (DOF) as to what is the appropriate tax structure that we will finally pass," Drilon said in an interview.

The President, Drilon added, did not impose any deadline on them.

"He realizes that the Senate as [a] collegial body will have to seek the views of each senator. Yes, he is open to amendments," Drilon said.

This is in stark contrast to the President's statements during his second State of the Nation Address last July 24, where he exerted pressure on the Senate to quickly pass Malacañang's version of the tax reform bill. He also zeroed in on Senate ways and means committee chairman Juan Edgardo Angara, saying the tax reform bill could make or break his reelection bid in 2019.

Senators earlier opposed Malacañang’s version, calling it "anti-poor." With the President's leeway, Angara expects the bill's passage in the chamber.

"Palagay ko mas madaling ipasa kung gano'n (I think it would be easier to pass if that's the case). We can find ways to make it more acceptable to the senators na may kanya-kanyang causes (who have their respective causes)," Angara said.

Under the DOF proposal, personal income tax will be reduced but higher excise taxes will be imposed on fuel, automobiles, and sugar-sweetened beverages. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

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