MANILA, Philippines — Activist lawmakers said the ratification of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion bill by the House of Representatives with barely a dozen members on the floor Wednesday night was “invalid.”
“The ratification of the TRAIN by the House of Representatives was a total farce and travesty of the so-called representative democracy,” ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said, calling the exercise invalid for lack of quorum.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate described what happened as a “blatant violation of our rules.” He cited Rule X, Sec. 63 of the House on Conference Committee Reports, which states that: “xxx A conference committee report shall be ratified by a majority vote of the Members of the House present, there being a quorum.”
“Obviously the runaway TRAIN that would (wreak) havoc on our people with new burdensome taxes was not validly ratified and legally infirm,” he said.
Sought for reaction, Majority Leaders Rodolfo Fariñas said: “Any member who is contesting the report of the presiding officer and the floor leaders about the proceedings leading to the ratification of the bicam (bicameral) committee report on the TRAIN, such member could bring it to the attention of plenary or, if not contented, to the courts.”
Fariñas admitted he was not on the floor when the ratification took place.
He said he left at around 7 p.m. to attend to an “urgent matter.”
But Tinio said most of the lawmakers had gone to the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City for the Christmas party of the administration’s PDP-Laban, with, he claimed, President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
He posted a photo of the almost empty session hall on Facebook with the following caption:
“Ito ang Kongresong nagpasa ng kontra-mahirap na TRAIN ng rehimeng Duterte. Nasaan ba kamo ang mga kinatawan? Nasa Xmas party ng PDP-Laban sa Sofitel ang karamihan, kasama mismo si Du30. Ganyan sa Kongreso — may boto kahit walang tao, nagpa-party sa 5-star hotel kasama ang Pangulong galit daw sa luho habang nagpapataw ng pahirap na mga buwis sa mamamayan.”
(This is the Congress that passed the anti-poor TRAIN of the Duterte regime. Where were the representatives, you wonder? Mostly at the Xmas party of the PDP-Laban at Sofitel, together with Du30 himself. That is Congress — votes are cast even without people, holding a party at a 5-star hotel with the President who claims to abhor opulence while he piles more onerous taxes on the people.)
The TRAIN bill, the first tax reform measure under the Duterte administration, reduces the tax rate of individual income tax payers, but poses higher tax on fuel, tobacco, vehicles, coal and sweetened beverages.
After more than an hour’s break on Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, the presiding officer, announced the resumption of session at around 8 p.m. Iloilo Representative Arthur Defensor Jr., then the floor leader, announced the receipt of the House of the committee report on the TRAIN bill that was approved by the bicameral conference committee.
After reading the title of the committee report, Abu announced its ratification, which was immediately followed by the adjournment of the session.
Before the ratification, Tinio stood up and questioned the quorum but was ignored by the presiding officer.
Tinio said the ratification should not have been done since there were only about a dozen lawmakers in plenary. The members were not also given copies of the bicam-approved report, he said.
“Since there was no quorum and no actual vote was taken, the alleged ratification is clearly invalid,” he said.
“The brazen railroading of this TRAIN wreck on the poor exposes yet again the blatant disregard of the Duterte administration and its super-majority in Congress for even the most minimal standards of democracy,” he added.
Duterte is expected to sign the TRAIN bill into law before the end of the year for implementation in 2018.
Senators, too, objected to the bill’s ratification.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said he rejected the measure because “it will increase prices for all Filipinos without the necessary safeguards to protect our poor countrymen.”
“I cannot, in good conscience, vote for the approval of this tax reform package,” he said “Hindi ako pabor sa mga probisyon na magdudulot ng pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin, lalo na dahil ang mga mahihirap na Pilipino ang pinaka tinatamaan dito (I am not in favor of the provisions that would raise the prices of goods, especially since poor Filipinos will be most affected).”
Although the Department of Finance proposed a cash transfer program with a P200 monthly financial assistance on the first year and P300 monthly financial assistance for the second and third year to help cover the increase in prices of basic goods, Aquino said his proposal requiring this mechanism to be in place before taxes are increased was rejected during the period of amendments.
He also accused government of “forcing hardworking Filipinos to compensate for our inefficiency in tax collection of both the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.”
For his part, Senator Joel Villanueva said he was dismayed by “the sudden removal” of a provision requiring local coal producers to pay excise tax.
“This act of deletion displayed the hand of the industry with intentions as dark as the dirtiest of all fossil fuels,” he said.
“We express our deepest disappointment to this act of secretly tampering with written documents. It puts our legislative efforts in the shadow of doubt of interference from an industry who wishes to get things their way, contrary to the hard-fought results of our democratic process within our legislative chambers,” the vice chairman of the ways and means committee said.