Philippines: Budget ratified; tax reform bill on hold

  • The Senate and the House of Representatives 12 Dec 17’s night ratified the final version of the proposed PHP3.8tr 2018 national budget.
  • The two chambers, however, failed to ratify the report on the proposed tax reform bill, officially called Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), which would impose a PHP6 tax on diesel, cooking gas, kerosene and bunker fuel for electricity generation over three years starting on 1 Jan 18.
  • The TRAIN conference committee was still putting finishing touches on the measure. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has vowed to approve the two important measures before the end of 2017.
  • Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, House appropriations committee chairman, said President Duterte is scheduled to sign the budget bill by 19 Dec 17.
  • Nograles said among the major changes the two chambers agreed upon were the provision of an additional PHP1,000 cash allowance for public school teachers – raising the amount from PHP2,500 to PHP3,500 per month – additional PHP10mn for each of 115 state universities and colleges and the allocation of PHP40bn for free tertiary education in SUCs.
  • He said PhilHealth was given an additional subsidy of PHP3.5bn for the health care benefits of employees in the executive branch.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson both questioned the lack of transparency by the Senate committee on finance, which provided them with a report of the bicameral conference committee but without any explanation of the details of the changes made to the budget measure.
  • Both Drilon and Lacson revealed that they received the bicam report late 11 Dec 17 and did not have time to go through it before 12 Dec 17’s plenary session.
  • The report also contained mere figures of the changes made during the bicam meetings but not the details of these changes.
  • Drilon said that it was his understanding that upon the request of Lacson, the bicam contingent of the Senate would provide them with a briefing on what was agreed upon during the meetings.
  • Lacson, who pushed for the removal of PHP86bn from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways for projects which he said could not yet be implemented because of pending road right-of-way issues, noted that the agency ended up with even more funds and he has no idea how it happened.
  • During the initial bicam meetings, the Senate panel offered a compromise to bring down the cuts introduced by Lacson to PHP50bn, but the House panel still found this unacceptable.

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