MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's tax reform package advanced in the Senate after the ways and means committee sponsored it on Wednesday.
"Kapag kakaunti lamang sa ating mga kababayan na nasa baba ang nakaka-akyat o nakaka-angat, ito ay labag sa katarungang panlipunan o social justice na nakasaad sa ating Saligang Batas at dapat nabibigyan ng pinaka-mataas na prayoridad ng Kamarang ito," committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara said.
(When only a few of our poor countrymen's lives improve, it is a violation of social justice which is provided in our Constitution and must be given priority by this Congress.)
The bill presented by Angara has several differences from the one passed by House of Representatives in May.
On income taxes, the Senate version proposes a lower income tax exemption rate for individuals. While the House version exempts individuals earning P250,000 or below per year from income taxes, the senate version will exempt only those earning P150,000 or below per year.
The House version also raises the highest tax bracket to income earners of P5 million and up.
The Senate version meanwhile puts the highest tax bracket at P2 million and up.
On fuel, the Senate and House versions agree on a P6.00 hike in excise taxes staggered over 3 years but differ on the amount to be levied per year.
The House proposes to hike excise taxes by P3.00 on the first year, P2.00 on the second year and P1.00 on the third year.
The Senate version proposes to hike duties by P1.75 on the first year, P2.00 on the second year and P2.25 on the third year.
The Senate version also exempts kerosene from excise taxes as long as this is not used as aviation fuel.
On sugar-sweetened beverages, the House version imposes a P10.00 per liter excise tax on non-alcoholic sweetened beverages, in liquid, powder or concentrate forms.
The Senate version meanwhile imposes a P5.00 per liter tax for beverages with caloric sweeteners, P3 for those with non-caloric sweeteners, and P10 for those that use High Fructose Corn Syrup.
The Senate version also exempts the popular 3-in-1 instant coffee blends from excise taxes.
Both the Senate and House versions of the tax reform package exempt milk, and natural fruit and vegetable juices from excise taxes.
In a media briefing early Wednesday, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Duterte's economic team had been briefing lawmakers on the importance of the bill, and he was confident that legislators would pass a measure that would increase state revenues.
The administration is overhauling the tax system to shift the burden to the ultra-rich from the middle class and raise funds for an P8-trillion infrastructure program.
Angara said the Senate version of the proposal has social justice as its “moral arch and its dominant purpose,” then adds the fiscal math.
“The result is a very comprehensive and ambitious tax reform which reduces income taxes of 99 percent of individual taxpayers without impairing the government’s capability to finance its ‘Build, Build, Build’ program and other worthy projects like rebuilding Marawi and upgrading our defense and police forces," he said.
-- with reports from Warren De Guzman, ABS-CBN News