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Rough Cuts | Hard choices on board the TRAIN’s journey

As early as middle of last year we were already forewarned in some national broadsheets and broadcast reports that the government will be collecting so many billions of pesos starting this January from the new rounds of “fare” hike the Filipinos will have to pay. And this came after we were “forced” to take the ride on the TRAIN that the economic managers of the current administration have designed for us.

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 in the first year of the current administration. It was passed by Congress after heavy debates so the national government can reach with some degree of ease in its travel towards 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 and the weight of the TRAIN and the load on board combined have already generated fire storms from the public that is supposed to ride high on the benefits that this development vehicle seeks to attain.

Now this TRAIN is again collecting the second round of “fare” increases that were included in the provision of the law that allowed its “franchise.” These increases are in form of additional excise taxes on fuel products and imposition of add-on value added tax (VAT) on the same items effective last January 1, 2020.

No, it is not the train of the MRT or LRT or the PNR kind in Manila, or the still under the nebulous dream Mindanao Railway System. But of course it virtually brings the same level of hardship to its riding public who are size-able fractions of the Filipino people.

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 operating cost, and even their taxes payable to the government. Certain types of businesses are even able to manipulate the law so that they can make the public pay for the losses in their operation – or so they claim.

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’s TRAIN is now roaring strong. But as it continues in motion with more “fares’ starting this 2020, stores never had it so good in regularly changing their price tags. And always it is on the upward trend. Their reason is plain and simple. The upward adjustment in the prices of their merchandise is brought about by the additional excise tax and VAT on fuel products. 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 so-called 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 recent 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.

And third, only a week ago, the world was shocked with the killing of a high ranking military general of Iran’s elite army unit in a bomb attack ordered by the President of the United States at the vicinity of the Bagdad International Airport in Iraq. Already Iran has vowed that it will not take the attack sitting down. It will retaliate. And its government can use its oil as weapon.

Unfortunately, this government’s TRAIN primarily runs on taxes from fuel products. And sadly for us Filipinos, all oil products and its derivatives, as well as feeds and raw materials for swine raising and meat processing are “on-board” the TRAIN. Why? Because those engaged in businesses related to the mentioned “passengers” find it much easier and convenient to blame the TRAIN’s hiked “fare” for the price increases.

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 to claim that he or she has seen or felt “the best” that the government has done to lessen 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 manufacture, distribute, or sell in retail. When asked how they arrived at the rate of their increases the answer was simple: “The TRAIN is now rolling with an added ‘fare’ in terms of the excise tax and VAT.” 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 themselves set before the IRR took effect. Now come the second round of excise tax and VAT imposition starting this month.

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 for 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. The government has to proceed with all these development projects. Holding these in abeyance or “freezing” the projects cannot be an option. Hence, there can only be two hard choices for the people:

Continue taking the TRAIN and, even if grudgingly, pay the “fare” and help government reach its development destination, or “disembark” and derail it and in the process lose all those that are expected from the TRAIN’s long and possibly rough second to third year journey.

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