Photo by Jamme Robles
Text by Merryll Phae Red Carao
Kicking off the start of the semester, University of the Philippines-Diliman students held a protest against the Duterte administration’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law.
Progressive student groups led by Anakbayan UP Diliman denounced the newly passed TRAIN Law and called for its junking due to its effect of raising the price of basic commodities.
The TRAIN law exempts those who earn less than P250,000 annually from income tax, which spells a bigger take home pay for minimum wage earners. According to the Department of Finance, the law is expected to help 99% of Filipino families because of the exception to personal income tax.
This is coupled with an increase in excise tax, or taxes on products that use sugar, salt, oil, and coal. This paves the way for even the most basic commodities to inflate. The cost of transportation is also expected to increase given the oil price hikes that will follow the passing of the TRAIN law.
Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua said that higher excise taxes should not be feared because it will be ‘minimal and temporary’ only.
According to think tank IBON Foundation,, only 7.5 million FIlipinos are expected to benefit from the income tax exemption, with 15.2 million Filipinos expected to bear the burden of the increase in excise tax.
Moreover, not everyone who earn below Php 250, 000 will feel the impact of the income tax exemption, as many of those workers earn minimum wage and do not pay taxes.
“Most of the country’s total 22.7 million families do not pay income tax because they are just minimum wage earners or otherwise in informal work with low and erratic incomes,” said Sonny Africa, head of IBON Foundation.
“Even if TRAIN reduces income taxes paid by most of the reported 7.5 million personal income taxpayers, this still leaves as much as 15.2 million families without any income tax gains,” he added.
Presyuhan sa Diliman
The UP community is already experiencing the TRAIN Law in every meal; prices of sweetened drinks and student meals have gone up, especially among the ranks of the many kiosks or food stalls inside the university.
Sweetened drinks have gone up by as much as 5 pesos, and meals with processed food like hotdogs and instant noodles are expected to inflate by the same amount in the coming months.
Students denounced the Duterte administration for neglecting to consider the worsening poverty in the Philippines through the implementation of neoliberal policies that are more detrimental to the Filipino people’s situation.
Irene Hilario from the League of FIlipino Students-UP Diliman said that the TRAIN law is just one of the many anti-poor policies that the Duterte administration are subjecting his constituents to, and that from the start, Duterte was insincere about helping the Filipino people.
“Kung titignan natin, sino nga ba ang makikinabang sa mga neoliberal na polisiyang ito? Malinaw na ang mga dayuhang kumpanya lamang,” Hilario said.
He added that the ‘anti-poor’ projects and programs of the Duterte administration are in no way for the development of the country, but instead a profiteering scheme of foreign companies.
According to Anakbayan UP Diliman, the collected taxes from the increase in excise tax will not reach the Filipino people in the way that they should. The money will go into foreign debt servicing and into Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program, which is expected to see a rise in infrastructures such as malls and, but not of basic social services such as affordable medical facilities or housing.
However, this is just the first step of four of the Duterte administration’s tax reform program. Packages 2-4 are expected to be implemented in the next years.
Free education from TRAIN?
Students are also hard pressed to avail of the free tuition inside State Colleges and Universities (SUCs) such as UP because of the lack of budget. UP has started prompting their students to opt out of free matriculation to receive, for example, allowance or stipend from the school.
Last year, Duterte said that the budget for free education will come from the tax collected under the TRAIN law. This statement was decried by progressive groups, saying that the government pits the interest of students for free education against the interest of poor Filipinos to afford basic commodities.
Part of the money collected from excise tax will also go to Duterte’s Martial Law and Oplan Tokhang, which continue to claim lives in the streets and to deal human rights violations against the Filipino people, according to Kate Raca of Alay Sining.
‘Ganito ang itsura ng rehimeng US-Duterte. Gigipitin niya ang nga mamamayan para tumaba ang kanyang bulsa sa pagpatay,” she said.
According to the student groups, they are planning bigger protests against the TRAIN law, and the impending jeepney phaseout in the coming weeks to show the administration that with every fascist and neoliberal attack, their fight grows stronger.
‘Dapat malinaw sa atin na habang tumataas ang mga bilihin ay tumataas ang militansya ng mga kabataan laban sa pasistang rehimeng ito,’ said Raca.