Charter change, tax reform not included in Senate's priority agenda — majority leader

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Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 25) — The Senate's priority legislation this year will not include charter change and package two of the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said. 

Zubiri also said some senators are not inclined to rush deliberations on these proposals. 

"Tuloy ang hearing ni Senator Kiko Pangilinan on (charter change). Hindi po namin mamadaliin. I think they have series of meetings that will be done in the next few months pero walang utos na madaliin ito," Zubiri said in an interview Tuesday.

[translation: The hearing of Senator Kiko Pangilinan on charter change will continue. We will not rush it. I think they have series of meetings that will be done in the next few months but there are no orders to rush it.]

He added senators have agreed during the all-member caucus to discuss the amendments proposed by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) in Pangilinan's panel.

Zubiri said many of the senators, including him, expressed reservations on TRAIN 2.

"Ninenerbiyos na kami dito sa mga TRAIN na ito. Pag aralan natin ng mabuti 'yan," he said.

[Translation: We are nervous about this TRAIN. We need to study this.]

Proponents of the TRAIN Law believe the second package of TRAIN is not a burden to consumers because this only covers the lowering of corporate taxes and the rationalization of fiscal incentives. Zubiri said the Department of Finance also told them that micro, small and medium-sized businesses would not be affected.

But Zubiri claimed businesses have been complaining to them, even warning to transfer their operations in other countries.

"Sabi nila kung matatanggal incentives nila lilipat sila ng Vietnam [if their incentives are removed they will transfer to Vietnam]. Eh ano bang number one sentiment ng taong bayan sa [but what is the number 1 public sentiment according to the] Pulse Asia Survey? Its job generation. Not to lose our jobs here to go to another country or losing investments to other countries. We should not allow that," he said.

For now, Zubiri said, no senator wants to sponsor TRAIN 2.

He added the Senate will prioritize the supplemental budget for Dengvaxia vaccine victims, mandatory Philhealth for Persons with Disabilities, coco levy fund, universal health care, endo (end of contract) and rice tariffication.

The Senate Committee on Finance on Tuesday pushed for the passage of the P1.16-billion supplemental appropriation that would be used as medical assistance to those who received the Dengvaxia vaccine.

The mandatory Philhealth for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) was approved Tuesday on second reading. The Coco Levy Fund is just a step away to being passed as it only awaits deliberations at the bicameral conference committee level.

Senators will sponsor the Universal Health Care Act by Monday and are committed to approve it.

The National Land Use Act is another priority although Senator Cynthia Villar has some reservations. Villar promised to sponsor the rice tariffication bill as soon as possible.

Senator Joel Villanueva has committed to sponsor endo or End of Contractualization bill. 

The Senate also vowed to hasten budget deliberation for 2019. 

"Once the budget comes to us here by August, naku wala na siguro tayong mata-tackle na iba [we would not be able to tackle anything else] all the way til the break on October," he said.

The Senate technically only has about six months to deliberate on priority measures before the campaign season. It will go on a break by the second week of October, another break in November and another for the Christmas break by the second week December.

When they resume session on January they only have about three weeks before the campaign period.