Tempers flare as senators double mining taxes without hearings

MANILA, Philippines – In an unusual move, the Senate overwhelmingly voted Monday, November 27, to double mining taxes even though there were no committee hearings conducted earlier to discuss the issue.

It was Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto who first introduced the proposal but later withdrew it. Senator Francis Escudero, however, revived it, saying it was high time to increase taxes of mining companies for “raping” the country.

This did not sit well with Senate ways and means committee chair Juan Edgardo Angara and Senate environment and natural resources chair Senator Cynthia Villar, who both said it was unfair for the industry to be taxed without hearing their side.

Madali ho magsalita pero sana ho may basehan ang sasabihin sa chamber,” Angara said. (It's easy to say that, but this chamber should have a basis for this.)

Villar, for her part, chided Escudero for abruptly introducing the proposal without any discussions in the committee level. As environment panel chair, Villar said they should have been consulted first.

“It’s not in the committee report. If one of the senators would want to tax somebody, they just move on the floor and tax that industry. I think this industry should be given a chance to be heard before we tax them,” Villar said.

“It’s unfair you come to the floor, it's not in the committee report, and you tax them without hearing their side,” she added.

In the end, the proposal won with a vote of 10-2, with 3 senators abstaining from voting. The three abstantions were Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Angara and Villar.

The 2 opposing votes were from Senators Nancy Binay and Richard Gordon.

The 10 who supported the doubling of mining taxes included Recto, Escudero, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito, Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villuaneva, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

No consultation?

Escudero got back and said Angara’s committee did not thoroughly consult people on the different issues involving the tax reform package, including the sugar-sweetened beverages and fuel, among others,

Who did we exactly ask? Natanong ba lahat ng uminom ng 3-in-1, natanong  mga grupo? My only concern, which I'd like to air, pag malalaking grupo na P2 billion lang kukunin, masyado tayong takot magreklamo. Yung kukunin sa sugar tax, ordinaryong tao, hindi tinanong P47 billion. Yung kukunin sa fuel tax, kung mapapasa, P37 billion. But who did we ask, selected consumer groups?” Escudero said.

(Did we ask all those who drink 3-in-? My concern is, if we will will taxing P2 billion from a big group, we are concerned over their complaints. But in the case of the sugar tax, the ordinary folks, we didn't ask about the P47 billion we will tax them. If we pass the fuel tax, did we ask selected consumer groups?)

Escudero said there are no legal issues with what he did, saying the Senate has the power to propose tax rules. He also urged his colleagues to not be “snagged” by the “procedural issue.”

“I don’t think we will be facing a legal problem. The Senate, sitting in plenary, can and has the power to do this,” Escudero said.

In an attempt to further push his point, Escudero said the committee did not ask groups when, just minutes earlier, it agreed to increase coal taxes by nearly 3000 percent – from P10 pesos per metric ton to P300 by 2020.

Angara refuted the claim, saying some groups have pushed for a tax of P1,200.

A seemingly irked Angara also enumerated the groups his committee consulted and said: “Mahirap ho magsalita pag wala sa hearing.” (You cannot comment, if you weren't in the hearings.)

At this point, Escudero already went out of the session hall. Sotto took the chance to explain his vote, as well as Escudero’s point.

“Simple lang boto ko, wala akong pakialam sa pinagsasabi nila. Ang akin, ang bansa natin tayo may-ari. Ang lupa atin, ang binubungkal na lupa atin, ang parte natin 2%.. o ayun,” Sotto said. (My vote is simple. I don't care what they just said. My point is this. We own this country. The ground is ours, the land they dig is ours. But our share is merely 2 percent. That's it.) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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