THE SENATE will discuss the fate of at least the second tax reform package, the proposed 2019 national budget and of other priorities in a caucus when 17th Congress lawmakers return to work on Jan. 14, the head of the chamber said on Wednesday.
“We are still discussing it. I’m calling for an all-senators caucus on the noon of the 14th,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a mobile phone message when asked if there is a chance for the Senate to approve the proposed Tax Reform for Attracting Better and Higher-Quality Opportunities (TRABAHO) law in the limited time left for the 17th Congress to act on bills.
Lawmakers have Jan. 14-Feb. 8 to work on remaining priorities under this Congress, and just May 20-June 7 after the May 13 legislative and local elections. President Rodrigo R. Duterte appealed in his July 23 State of the Nation Address for both chambers of Congress to approve all tax reforms by last month, but controversies surrounding the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget prevented the Senate from acting on tax reforms before lawmakers adjourned for their Christmas break on Dec. 15.
The Finance department quoted its head, Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, in a Jan. 1 press release as telling reporters recently: “We will discuss again with them (legislators) and see how we can push (the tax reform packages).”
Only one of up to five planned tax reform packages has so far been enacted: Republic Act No. 10963, or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act that slashed personal income tax rates and raised or added taxes on various items.
The TRABAHO bill — which the House of Representatives approved in September last year and which awaits approval in the Senate Ways and Means committee — aims to cut corporate income tax rates and streamline fiscal incentives.
Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads that committee, said the panel will do its “best” to approve tax reform packages that hurdled the House last year. “We will do our best under the circumstances to push them forward. It’s quite important that all stakeholders and all points of view be heard first before the committee can come up with any committee reports,” he said in a text message.
The House had also approved the other remaining tax reforms before adjournment, including reforms in the motor vehicle users’ charge, additional excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol products, an increase in the government’s share from mining, restructuring of real tax property taxation, and rationalization of taxes on financial instruments.
Aside from the TRABAHO bill, Mr. Sotto said the all-senator Jan. 14 caucus will also discuss the proposed 2019 national budget, proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007, and the Security of Tenure bill, among others.
The Senate adjourned session last Dec. 15 without approving the proposed national budget, saying it did not have enough time to do so. That resulted in automatic re-enactment of the 2018 budget, but the chamber has said it expects to approve the proposed 2019 spending plan by next month.
Proposed amendments to RA 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, which await Senate committee approval, seeks to impose stiffer penalties on acts of terrorism.
The Security of Tenure bill, which awaits second-reading approval in plenary session, tightens restrictions on labor contracting. Mr. Duterte had vowed in his presidential campaign to ban all forms of contracting, but the current bill has not found favor either with workers’ groups — who say it does not go far enough — or with business, which says it is too restrictive.
“To prioritize ‘endo’ (end of contract, referring to the Security of Tenure bill), amendments to the Procurement Law, Local Government Code, Omnibus Election Code… plus upgrading penalties to illegal gambling activities,” he told reporters in a mobile phone message. — Camille A. Aguinaldo