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Rough Cuts | How’s the TRAIN’s journey?

About two weeks ago we read in some national broadsheets a report from the government having collected so many billions of pesos from the “fare” the Filipinos pay after taking “forced” ride on the TRAIN that our economic managers designed under the current administration.

And we mean the TRAIN which is the acronym for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion that was certified as urgent measure by the Executive Department for passage by Congress so the national government can reach with some degree of ease its travel to reach its desired development goal.

The TRAIN is only about two years since it started its journey. But it cannot be denied that even before it could heat up the rails the havoc created by the cranking of its engine already generated firestorms from the very public that is supposed to ride high on the benefits that this TRAIN seeks to attain.

No, it is not the train of the MRT kind, although it virtually brings the same level of hardship to its riding public who are a sizeable fraction of the Filipino consumers.

This TRAIN is the one that has accelerated the unreasonable rise in prices of basic and prime commodities. It is the TRAIN that has an INCLUSION knitted in so fine a fabric that no one can be excluded from its impact except the big businesses since they just simply pass on to the consumers what they have to add in their taxes payable to the government.

And no matter how the TRAIN’s operator, the government, justifies its launching by citing the benefits that this “vehicle” carries, the masses who suffer the brunt of its debilitating effect on the pocket would not stop complaining because it is a day-to-day drain in their already meager resources.

Yes, this government TRAIN is now roaring strong. But as it continues in motion in over a year, stores never had it so good in regularly changing their price tags always on the upward trend. By now people saw and felt the runaway prices of household and other related commodities. The rise has gone up way beyond the consumer’s imagination. Even the prices of our staple food – rice – that should have gone much lower because of the implementation of the Rice Import Tariffication Law, never really went down as projected by the government.

Now there are talks being floated to test the reaction of the consuming public. That is, that there will be new rounds of price increases in basic commodities brought about by the confluence of some events. First the steep increase in fuel products brought about by the destruction of Saudi Arabia’s two biggest oil fields and refineries. Second, the massive reduction in the volume of processed meat products due to the infestation in the country of the dreaded African Swine Fever (ASF) affecting the country’s hog industry.
But since all oil products and its derivatives, as well as feeds and raw materials for swine raising and meat processing are “on-board” the TRAIN those engaged in businesses related to the mentioned “passengers” find it much easier and convenient to blame the TRAIN for the price hikes.

Of course the government claims that it has done its best to assuage the fear of the buying public. But apparently, the effort is far from enough. That is probably the reason why no one is vocal enough to claim that he or she has seen or felt “the best” that the government has done to assuage the consumers’ fear.

How can it be when even before the TRAIN’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) were released the businessmen from the biggest to the ambulant levels were already raising the prices of their merchandise! Meaning, they themselves determine the rate of increase for the products they sell. When asked how they arrived at the rate of their increases the answer was simple: “The TRAIN is now rolling.” And when confronted on why other items in the market not covered by the TRAIN law also have increased in cost, the response is even simpler and curt. “Fuel prices have gone up because there is the TRAIN.”

And when finally the TRAIN’s IRR were completed and made effective the businessmen made another rounds of price increases. Worst, they based the rate of their increase on the prices they set before the IRR took effect.

But of course people want development in our country; we want continuous delivery of social services; we want fast internet speed; we want bigger salaries of workers in the government bureaucracy; we need roads that are for “connection, not destination,” to quote urban planner Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox.

So, for the government to address all these desires of the people it needs more money. And it can only get it through the “fares” we pay in our TRAIN ride.

That is why under the Duterte administration’s “Build, build, build” program new airports are built, new railway systems are undergoing construction, the hinterlands are made accessible through newly concreted roads and highways. There are also new sea ports and wide superhighways and boulevards. Of course the government has no other recourse but to proceed with all these development projects. Holding these in abeyance or “freezing” the projects cannot be a choice.

Hence, there can only be two options for the people to choose from:
Continue taking the TRAIN, even if grudgingly, pay the “fare” and help government reach its development ‘destination;’ or “disembark” and derail it, and lose all those that are expected from the TRAIN’s long and possibly rough second to third year journey.

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