Senate, Finance department move to expedite tax reform legislation

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THE SENATE Ways and Means committee will conduct parallel tax reform hearings with the House of Representatives, while the Department of Finance (DoF) has begun meeting with both chambers, in order to ensure prompt approval of the bills.

“I have started consultations with the DoF and soon will conduct hearings, open to all sectors,” Ways and Means committee Chairperson Senator Pia S. Cayetano said in a statement.

“As chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee, I look forward to working with our counterparts in the House of Representatives and our economic managers led by the Finance department in exploring ways to fund social services for our people.”

Section 24 of Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution provides that all appropriation, revenue and tariff bills should originate from the House.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III had said in a mobile phone message on Monday that the chamber could decide to hold parallel hearings, as practiced in the past Congress. “Pwede, it’s up to her,” Mr. Sotto said, referring to Ms. Cayetano.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22, asked the 18th Congress to pass all the remaining tax reform measures by the end of 2019.

The DoF has been meeting with lawmakers ahead of the tax hearings. “We are now in regular talks and briefings with relevant legislative committee chairs for the coming hearings,” Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito G. Lambino II said in a text message on Tuesday.

The government has so far enacted Republic Act No. (RA) 10963, which slashed personal income tax rates and increased or added levies on several goods and services; RA 11213; the Tax Amnesty Act of 2019 that grants estate tax amnesty and amnesty on delinquent accounts that remained unpaid even after final assessment; and RA 11346, which will gradually increase the excise tax rate on tobacco products to P60 per pack by 2023 from P35 currently.

Remaining tax reforms up for legislation consist of proposals to reduce the corporate income tax rate gradually to 20% by 2029 from 30% currently and to make fiscal incentives time-bound and performance-based; to further increase the excise tax on alcohol products and electronic cigarettes; to centralize real property valuation and assessment; and to simplify the tax structure for financial investment instruments.

These had been approved on final reading in the House by December last year but remained at the committee level in the Senate as the 17th Congress ended on June 3.

Of the proposed tax laws, the DoF hopes the second package, which will cut corporate income tax rates to make them at par with those within Southeast Asia and will overhaul tax incentives, will be prioritized. “Ang marching order kasi is to pass all of them by the end of the year…” Mr. Lambino said. “All of them are priorities pero kung siguro meron talagang kailangan i-prioritize in terms of timing, sana ’yung Package 2 (but if there is a need to prioritize in terms of timing, let it be Package 2).” — Charmaine A. Tadalan