Among the hype the Department of Finance (DOF) uses regarding the government’s tax reform package is how taxes paid by the poor will go back to them in the form of infrastructure projects and social services. The reality however is that the taxes will go largely to big-ticket infrastructure projects in and around the National Capital Region (NCR) that the poor will hardly benefit from.
Currently undergoing Senate deliberations, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill is the first of five packages under the Duterte administration’s Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP). The DOF’s version of the CTRP aims to raise an additional Php157 billion in revenues per year, while the version passed by the House of Representatives (HOR) will raise Php130 billion.
Under TRAIN, there will be higher consumption taxes through the removal of value-added tax exemptions, such as on socialized and low-cost housing and power transmission; new excise taxes on fuel, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), and automobiles; and reduced personal income tax rates, estate taxes, and donor’s taxes.
Despite DOF claims that the poor benefit most from their tax reform program, the truth is that the poorest majority of Filipinos bear a heavier tax burden than the rich.
The poorest 60 million Filipinos will pay Php47.0 billion in additional taxes next year, or 2.3 percent of their combined family income of some P2.0 trillion. Meanwhile, the highest income 40 percent will pay Php47.6 billion, or only 0.8 percent of their total family income of some Php4.1 trillion.
This means the highest income 40 percent who have twice as much income as the poorest 60 percent of Filipinos will be paying virtually the same amount in additional taxes. Measured as a share of their total income, the poorest 60 percent will pay three times as much as the highest income 40 percent including the richest Filipinos.
TRAIN to nowhere?
Aside from covering up how much the CTRP will burden the poor, the DOF claims that the poor will mainly benefit from these tax revenues, as these will be used for the government’s infrastructure program and social services.
Studying the 2018 Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF) that the Duterte administration submitted to Congress is revealing. The 2018 national government budget submitted to Congress presumptuously assumes that the TRAIN will be passed and implemented next year. Yet the government’s spending pattern is not consistent with the claim that TRAIN will benefit mainly the poor.
It is misleading for the DOF to say that the TRAIN is for funding infrastructure AND social services. TRAIN is really about funding the infrastructure program, while much-needed social services continue to take a back seat, as seen in the proposed 2018 national budget.