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Kaya nagulat! Ejercito did not read full TRAIN report before voting for it

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By Xave Gregorio

Senator JV Ejercito admitted that he was not able to read the bicameral conference committee report on the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law in full before he cast a “disappointed yes, almost bordering to no” vote for its ratification.

“Aaminin ko, hindi ko nalaman dahil hindi ko nabasa ang final version, dahil ‘di ko naman inakala na aalisin po ‘yun,” Ejercito said Saturday (May 26) in an interview with DWIZ.

Ejercito was referring to a provision in the Senate version of the TRAIN Law which allowed for the automatic suspension of excise taxes on fuel when the inflation rate breaches 4 percent.

However, this provision was axed from the final version of the TRAIN Law drafted by the bicameral conference committee, leaving only the provision suspending excise taxes on fuel when Dubai crude oil reaches at least the average of $80 per barrel over three months based on the Mean of Platts Singapore.

“Doon ako nagtataka, bakit tinanggal na ‘yun talaga, so ‘yun po ang naalis,” Ejercito said.

In a text message to Politiko shortly after his interview, Ejercito clarified that he failed to read that this provision has been removed.

“Ang hindi ko nabasa ‘yung provision na tinanggal sa [bicameral conference committee,]” he said.

According to the transcript of the Senate plenary session on December 13, 2017, when the bicameral conference committee report was ratified, Ejercito only expressed opposition toward tax rates imposed on sugar sweetened beverages, petroleum and tobacco products.

His fellow re-electionist, Senator Bam Aquino, who has also brought up the axed Senate provision on the suspension of fuel excise tax, did not touch on this in his explanation of vote.

Likewise, Senate ways and means committee chair Sonny Angara did not disclose on the floor that the safeguard provision has been axed by the bicameral conference committee.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Loren Legarda, who were part of that panel, also did not reveal that the said provision was removed.

No senator who explained their votes talked about the removal of the Senate’s provision suspending fuel excise tax from the final draft of the TRAIN Law.

However, Senator Dick Gordon was able to clarify whether the provision for the earmarking of 13 percent of revenues from the implementation of the TRAIN Law for the modernization of the military was retained.

“I would like to be assured that finally we can get our military going because we do not want to be kicked around by other countries in Asia and we want our military to have the wherewithal. I did not hear any specifications whatsoever about the military. I am sorry, I mean, I just want to know,” Gordon said.

To placate him, he received a call from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and—when he was still unsatisfied—from President Rodrigo Duterte assuring him that there would be funding for the military.

Several senators, including re-electionist Senators Ejercito, Aquino and Nancy Binay, have called for the suspension of the TRAIN Law after inflation hit a five-year month-on-month high in April at 4.5 percent, from 4.2 percent in March, both above the 4 percent target inflation rate of the government. -with Dindo Matinig