LEFTIST lawmakers at the House of Representatives filed a petition before the Supreme Court on Thursday challenging the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) Law, citing lack of quorum that rendered the approval of the measure “unconstitutional.”
The militant bloc claimed the Train Law was “ratified by the House of Representatives and enacted by the President in violation of the Rules of the House of Representatives and the 1987 Constitution,” as there was clearly a lack of quorum in the plenary during the ratification on December 13, 2017.
“[A replay of the video] shows a nearly empty session hall, with only Petitioners, Respondents [Iloilo Rep. Arthur] Defensor, [Jr.] and [Batangas Rep. Raneo] Abu and a few other members. While the plenary session hall has 295 seats for the district and party-list representatives, only around ten of them were occupied that night,” the petition read.
Moreover, objections raised by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate on House leaders’ move to discuss the bicameral or reconciled version of the measure were “deliberately ignored” by Abu, who was the presiding officer, and Defensor, the deputy majority leader.
Tinio, Zarate and Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao filed the petition.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Defensor and Abu thus committed grave abuse of discretion, they said.
The bloc sought a restraining order against the implementation of the Train Law.
“Our petition is premised on the fact that the House blatantly violated the Constitution and its own rules in ‘ratifying’ the Bicameral Conference Committee Report of the [Train] bill without a quorum and without a vote.
Thus, we ask the Supreme Court to void the invalid House ratification and the overwhelmingly regressive Train law,” the bloc said in a statement.
“Once the Supreme Court favors our petition, it will send a strong message to the leaders of Congress that they cannot just pass a law without a quorum and without a vote; that they have to strictly observe the Constitution and, in particular, the rules on ratification,” the statement added.
The militant lawmakers also said they were considering filing another petition against the “regressive and burdensome” new tax impositions of the Train, which cut personal income taxes but raised taxes on fuel, vehicles, coal, sweetened beverages and others.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd earlier said 99 percent of the country’s population would benefit from the Train, as salaried employees and self-employed individuals earning a taxable income of P250,000 per year, or around P21,000 a month, are exempted from paying the personal income tax.
Other taxpayers in higher income brackets will also get to enjoy significant tax cuts, except the ultra-rich or those earning P8 million a year and above.
Also, 13th month pay and other bonuses up to P90,000 are non-taxable.
The petitioners disputed the government’s claims, saying the new excise taxes on petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages and a broader value-added tax base would hit the poor and low-income earners.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Train bill, the first of a series of tax reform bills, into a law on December 19, 2017.
Duterte was impleaded in the petition, and was also accused of grave abuse of discretion for enacting the Train bill “not validly passed by Congress.”
“Before the Congress passes and the President enacts tax measures, which mean diminution of the finances of the people either directly as levies or indirectly as passed-on charges, the Constitution mandates them to comply with the procedural and substantive requirements it sets, as implemented by their rules,” the leftist lawmakers said.
Revenues from the Train Law are supposed to help finance the President’s P8-trillion infrastructure program.
Malacañang is confident the government would be able to defend the legality of the Train law before the Supreme Court.
“We will defend the Train Law. The power of taxation is one of those three that cannot be denied as among the state’s powers, including the eminent domain and police power,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in an interview with GMA News.
Roque explained that under an “enrolled bill rule,” the court assumes that all rules of procedure in the enactment process were properly followed, once a bill passes a legislative body and is signed into law.
“They said there is no quorum when the Train was ratified by Congress. But we already have a decision – the Supreme Court – which is called enrolled bill theory,” Roque said.
“The enrolled bill principle [means]that once it is signed by the Senate President and the House Speaker, that’s a certification that a law underwent a process, in accordance with the Constitution. And that is respected by the courts,” he added.
WITH JOMAR CANLAS AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE