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Lawyer files petition seeking to suspend TRAIN

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Neri-Colmenares-Philstar
File photo of former congressman Neri J. Colmenares — Jonathan Asuncion/Philstar

By Gillian M. Cortez

A NEW PETITION for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt the implementation of Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law was filed on Tuesday, July 24.

Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares said in an interview with reporters on Tuesday, “Yung filing na ito ay humingi ng TRO mula sa Korte Suprema para ihinto ang TRAIN kasi ang laki na ng dagok nito sa mga mamayanan at sana agad itong pagbigyan ng korte suprema para muna ihinto ito (This filing seeks for a TRO from the Supreme Court so it would suspend TRAIN because it has a huge effect on the people and we hope that the Supreme Court will suspend this immediately).”

Last December, it was reported that ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio L. Tinio said that the ratification of TRAIN wasn’t valid because the bicameral report of TRAIN was approved despite only a few members present during the session. He mentioned that this violated Rule X, Section 63 of the Rules of the House of Representatives that reads “(a) conference committee report shall be ratified by a majority vote of the Members of the House present, there being a quorum.”

“Counsel Public Interest Law Center received a copy of the Resolution of the Court dated June 19, 2018 requiring Petitioners to file their respective Replies to the Office of the Solicitor General’s Consolidated Comment within ten days from notice,” the Supreme Court document read.

The petitioners were Representatives Antonio Tinio, Carlos Isagani Zarate, and Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao who filed a Petition for Certiorari With Prayer for Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order last January 10 (G.R. No. 236118) and Laban Konsyumer Inc. and Atty. Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba who filed Petition for Certiorari (With Urgent Application for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order, Writ of Preliminary Injunction, and/or Status Quo Ante Order) last January 19 (G.R. No. 236295).

The SC document read that the Respondents, through the Office of the Solicitor General, claimed in their consolidated comment that the petitions filed were weak because:

a. Certiorari is not the proper remedy to question the constitutionality of TRAIN.
b. The Petitions violate the principle of hierarchy of courts.
c. The Petitions raise issues which are “political questions.”
d. The Tinio Petition fails to implead Congress as an indispensable party.
e. President Duterte should be dropped from the petition on the ground of his immunity from suit.

The petitioners said in their reply that a “Certiorari under Rule 65 is the proper remedy to assail the constitutional validity of TRAIN.”

The petitioners added “Petitions for certiorari and prohibition are appropriate remedies to raise constitutional issues and to review and/or prohibit or nullify the acts of legislative and executive officials.”

The document also said that the Petitioners had the right to go directly to the SC for their filing because “standing law, rules, and jurisprudence allow them to go directly to the Supreme Court.”

“The urgent resolution of the constitutional issues on quorum and other requirements in legislative and enactment procedures, as well as the substantive invalidity of the TRAIN Law on the ground of its regressivity warrant direct resort to the High Court,” the petitioners’ reply also said.

The petitioners said in their reply that their filings “are justiciable issues and not political questions.”

“The Court can decide—is in fact, constitutionally bound to do so—on whether the House of Representatives was correct, under the Constitution, to bypass the constitutional quorum requirement and its own voting requirement in passing a law and whether the President was correct, under the Constitution, to sign into law a document which was a product of such bypass,” the document read.

Regarding G.R. No. 236118 failing to implead the Congress as an indispensable party, the Petitioners said in the reply that they “submit that the entire Congress is not the indispensable party to this case.”

“The main contention of the Petitioners is that the TRAIN Law was “passed” despite the lack of a quorum and the lack of a vote that would make any act in plenary an act of Congress pursuant to the procedural rules in lawmaking set by the Constitution and the Rules of the House of Representatives implementing the same,” the reply to the consolidated comment said.

Finally, the Petitioners also stressed that Mr. Duterte isn’t immune from the petition, saying “Presidential immunity is not a constitutional doctrine.”

“Nowhere in the 1987 Constitution does it say that the President is immune from suit,” they added.

“The Constitution directs Congress to come up with taxation laws that will move us towards a progressive system of taxation, not take us in the opposite direction,” the Reply to the Consolidated Comment said.

It added, “It is clear that TRAIN law goes in the completely opposite and regressive direction by: (1) increasing indirect consumption taxes, specifically oil excise and SSB taxes (whose impact is even aggravated by the further application of VAT on these); (2) lowering PIT including on most high-income groups; and (3) lowering taxes on property and wealth, specifically estate taxes and donor’s taxes.”

Mr. Colmenares said that he hopes that besides the TRO, the SC should “na ibasura ito dahil labag sa mga mamayanan at labag sa konstitutsyon dahil pinasa ito nang walang quorum (trash TRAIN because it violates people and violates the constitution because it was passed without quorum).”