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Sarili bago bayan: Winnie Monsod tags Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar behind major exemptions in tax reform bill

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Former socioeconomic planning secretary Winnie Monsod is doubtful if the proposed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill, as it was passed by the Senate, can finance the administration’s ambitious infrastructure program and provide a safety net for the poor considering the various exemptions placed by senators.

Citing observers of the Senate deliberations, Monsod, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines, said senators were so open about what they wanted in and out of the bill– depending on their needs.

“They even had pet names for themselves, like ‘Papa Bear’ (Gordon, I am told), ‘Mama Bear’ (Villar supposedly), and ‘Ice Queen’ (allegedly Legarda). And if their individual needs or interests clashed with the needs of tax reform, guess who won?” she said in her December 2 column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Monsod named Villar and Senator Sonny Angara as among the senators who prioritized their interests over the country’s needs.

She said Angara pushed for the inclusion of ecozones as among those with zero Value Added Tax (VAT) rating, while anything affecting real estate was given a wide berth to accommodate Villar.

Angara has an interest in ecozones since the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO) is in his home province. Villar’s husband, Manny, meanwhile, owns Vista Land and Cityscapes, one of the biggest real estate companies in the Philippines.

The projected revenues from TRAIN’s current version stand at P120 billion, while the estimated expenditures by the government is around P187 billion.

While ecozones are exempted from paying taxes, the senators moved to raise documentary stamps tax, minerals excise tax and the tax on coal.

For Monsod, these changes are not good enough because their effects were not thoroughly studied.

She said Senators JV Ejercito and Manny Pacquiao were presumably convinced not to push for raising the sin taxes– despite the big revenue they will bring– “because anyway, it will be included in TRAIN II ‘early’ next year.”

But with the 2019 elections just around the corner, Monsod said it’s unlikely these will even be discussed in Congress.

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