Senators worry over Angara's reelection: 'Baka ma-Recto siya'

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson said colleagues "sympathize" with Senate ways and means committee chair Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, after President Rodrigo Duterte singled him out in his 2nd State of the Nation Address and zeroed in on his 2019 reelection bid.

“We also sympathize with Senatory Sonny, dahil kawawa naman siya baka ma-Recto siya. Dahil remember ang VAT pinasa nila, nakatulong sa economy but the Filipinos did not realize then na tutulong talaga sa economy ginawa ni Ralph. Pero parusa sa kanya, natalo siya eh,” Lacson said on Wednesday, July 26.

(We also sympathize with Senator Sonny, because poor him, he might have the same fate as Recto. Remember, they passed VAT, which really helped the economy, but Filipinos did not realize then that what Ralph did was beneficial to the economy. But it ended up as his punishment because he lost.)

He was referring to Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, who lost in the 2007 elections, after sponsoring the Expanded Value Added Tax Law (EVAT).

Senators are set to convene a committee of the whole next week to discuss the tax reform bill with President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers, as they expressed support for their colleague.

Duterte exerted pressure on the Senate to pass his tax reform bill in toto. The House of Representatives earlier passed the bill, which the President certified as urgent, with major revisions. Under the law, tax measures should emanate from the House before it is transmitted to the Senate.

Senator Loren Legarda also came to Angara's defense on Wednesday, saying he is not to blame for the seemingly slow pace of the measure.

"It's not Sonny's job singly, or it's not his fault at all, that we seem slow. And we are not slow. He's been hearing it. So I'm here to defend and to support the chair," Legarda said during a tax hearing.

Beyond getting more government revenues, Legarda noted that the measure should also correct the loopholes in the country's tax system.

"And that's why I'm here is to put on the record that he may have been mentioned, and that's good. It means that there is a focus on tax reform. And that's focus not just on additional revenues, but also on correcting the weaknesses in the tax system. That's why it's called a tax reform measure. Just that good word for the reelectionist senator," she said.

Best venue to raise issues

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the committee on the whole would be the best venue to raise senators’ concerns with Duterte’s economic managers.

“Ngayon, meron akong suggestion at gusto naman ni Koko. Tawag kami ng committee of the whole to discuss the tax reform package. Sinabi na namin kanina para lahat ng concerns na 'yun lumabas lahat, ma-address,” Sotto told reporters on Wednesday, July 26.

(I made a suggestion, which Koko liked. We will call a committee of the whole to discuss the tax reform package. We said it earlier so all concerns would be addressed there.)

Kaya 'yung (So the) committee of the whole will probably get the inputs on why and how we’re going to resolve this budget issue. It will become a very big budget issue,” Sotto said.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito said almost all colleagues share the same sentiment on the measure.

Sotto said they would constitute the committee of the whole next week. Angara would still hold parallel hearings and would be be in charge of the committee report.

“Kasi (Because), committee of the whole, any senator can go....I think it’s more inclusive para pagdating sa plenary, mas mabilis (so when it reaches the plenary, it will be faster),Angara said.

Duterte has promised to lower income tax rates, in exchange of higher rates on fuel, automobiles, sugar-sweetened beverages. Senators, however, are not keen on doing so, as they question some “anti-poor” provisions. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.