Senate defers CREATE passage, as Gordon fights for freeports, investment friendly provisions

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2020 12:29 AM | Updated as of Nov 26 2020 02:04 AM

Senator Richard J. Gordon participates in a Senate hearing on February 6, 2020. Senate PRIB/file

MANILA - The Senate on Wednesday postponed the passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, after Sen. Richard Gordon fumed over the non-exemption of Subic Bay and other freeport zones in the country. 

Gordon said he was "surprised" that the Subic Bay Freeport Zone was mentioned in the measure that seeks to rationalize incentives for investors in the country. 

"If you put handcuffs on Subic, Subic will simply die," Gordon, a former mayor of Olongapo City who helped build the Subic Freeport Zone, said in plenary.

"Our country needs investments. I'm wary about setting up another layer called FIRB," he said, referring to the Fiscal Incentives Review Board.

Under the proposed measure, the FIRB is authorized to "approve and review" perks that can be granted to select investors and industries.

"This can be done by those who are on the ground. After all, they survive on their own with very little government support," Gordon said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri urged Gordon to follow procedure wherein contentious provisions are voted upon.

Gordon fumed at Zubiri's manifestation, saying the Majority Leader was trying to "muzzle" him.

"I was surprised that Mr. Zubiri would say na matagal na ito [pinag-uusapan], dapat bumoto na tayo. Ano ibig sabihin nu'n? Tatahimik ako?" Gordon said.

(I was surprised that Mr. Zubiri would say that this has been talked about for a while now, and we should just vote on it. What does that imply? That I should just keep quiet?)

"Don't try to muzzle me by saying all these things to placate our voices from DOF," he said, referring the the Department of Finance, which has been pushing to pass the measure.

Gordon reminded the chamber that it took him "pains" to build the Subic Bay Freepost Zone, which employs thousands of Filipinos and generates income and indirect taxes for the government.

"Don't make it appear that we are a burden to the people," he said.

"I've had my pains here . . . Imagine all the pains, all the hardships of our people there. You never saw it. You were never there."

Senate President Vicente Sotto III tried to placate Gordon, saying that all senators have the right to speak on the floor.

"No one is muzzling you. Please do not say that," Sotto said.

"We are giving you the floor even if the sponsor has the floor."

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Gordon should just make a motion to vote on whether or not Subic and other freeport zones should be exempted from some provisions in the measure.

"At the appropriate time, the gentleman from Zambales may propose an amendment later on to exempt Subic from this act and we can vote on it," he said.

Gordon urged the chamber to give him until Thursday to study the proposed amendment that involves the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

The Senate, which was supposed to pass the CREATE bill on second and third reading Wednesday night, agreed to tackle the measure on November 26 before the chamber approved the proposed 2021 national budget.

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