Malilong: Keeping distance from the TRAIN

SOME senators have asked for the suspension of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law. Not surprisingly, all of them are running for reelection in 2019. Senate President Tito Sotto is, however, cool to the proposal, according to the Philippine Star. Also not surprisingly, he is not due for reelection. Not in 2019 because he was re-elected to a six-year term in 2016 and neither in 2022 since he is barred under the constitution from seeking a third straight term.

The suddenly grieving (for the people) senators have learned their lesson well. They do not want to suffer the fate of Ralph Recto who, despite his notable performance in the Senate in his first term and the immense popularity of his actress wife, Vilma Santos, lost his reelection bid in 2007 because he authored the very unpopular Expanded Value Added Tax (EVAT) law.

For the record, the following senators voted to approve the TRAIN Law: Sotto, Koko Pimentel, Recto, Franklin Drilon, Sonny Angara, Francis Escudero, JV Ejercito, Win Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gringo Honasan, Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva and Migz Zubiri.

The only senator who dissented was Risa Hontiveros. Panfilo Lacson did not participate in the deliberations while Francis Pangilinan, Bam Aquino and Sonny Trillanes were absent during the voting. There were only 22 sitting senators at the time the TRAIN bill was deliberated upon because Alan Peter Cayetano was appointed to the Duterte Cabinet in May, 2017 and fierce Duterte critic Leila de Lima was, and remains, in jail for alleged drug offenses.

Angara, who as chair of the Ways and Means committee was tasked to shepherd the TRAIN in the Senate, got a stern warning from Duterte during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24 last year over the slow progress of the administration’s pet measure. Where is Angara, Duterte asked, and, finding him said, “bantay lang ka sa sunod election.”

Four months later, Angara delivered. On the day his colleagues passed the bill, he said the TRAIN law was expected to generate revenue for the government in the amount of between P100 billion to P130 billion. He is one of those who are expected to run for reelection next year but I do not think he has joined the chorus to temporarily stop the TRAIN from running, perhaps, until after the senators shall have been reelected.

It takes courage to remain steadfast in one’s support of an unpopular imposition when all the others are scrambling to bail out. The TRAIN law will definitely be an issue next year and the senators will be the most vulnerable because they get judged by a national constituency unlike the congressmen, who also had an indispensable hand in the law’s passage, but who can easily manipulate public opinion in their respective districts through projects and individual gifts.

Recto did not pass the EVAT singlehandedly. Majority of his colleagues voted for the measure. But he was the face of the law because like Angara ten years later, he was Ways and Means Committee chair and the burden of enacting an urgently important but hugely unpopular revenue measure rested on his shoulders. He received nothing but harsh punishment for his labors even as the EVAT eventually became a watershed in the history of tax reforms.

Angara can only hope that the people will be more forgiving this time or that the Duterte magic will rub off on him and shield him from disaster in May next year. He has served Duterte well so there is no reason for the president to withhold his support for, or worse, openly oppose Angara’s reelection as he impliedly threatened during his last SONA.

A friend once told me that the joy in doing something good and not being appreciated lies in the idea of being able to do it again. I guess you cannot give that advice to politicians.


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