It is unfortunate that some quarters have criticized Senator Sonny Angara for his role in shepherding the tax reform legislation, known as TRAIN, in the Senate. These critics have even called on voters to reject Senator Angara, who is seeking reelection in 2019.
Though I had sharply criticized Senator Angara in the past for allowing vested interests to be accommodated, he ultimately had the TRAIN passed. It’s good enough that as the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he facilitated the approval of this landmark reform.
The critics have misunderstood TRAIN, but I am confident that in the future it will be seen as a turning point in Philippine economic history — for correcting decades-old structural problems in our tax system and for generating sustained revenue to finance long-term development.
It was certainly a thankless task for the reelectionist senator to take up tax legislation, in which the primary but contentious feature is an increase in the fuel tax and other excise taxes. He did not avoid his responsibility of sponsoring the TRAIN bill, and he delivered despite the political backlash.
Senator Angara no doubt is aware of the sad experience of Senator Recto who authored the unpopular E-VAT law during Arroyo’s presidency. Recto’s loss in the Senate was wrongly attributed to his championing the E-VAT. But then Gloria Arroyo was unpopular and her presidency had an asterisk. (Remember the crisis brought about by “Hello Garci”?)
Had Senator Angara derailed the TRAIN (and he was in a position to do so as Chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee), we would have had trouble funding investments in education, health care, infrastructure, and other economic and social services. We would have risked downgrading our creditworthiness. We would have abandoned AmBisyon 2040.
Senator Angara may be many things, but his sponsorship of TRAIN suggests that he can have nerves of steel when he chooses to fight. Sponsorship of difficult but necessary reforms is not for the faint-hearted. One who can steer a critical measure despite its being controversial shows strength of character. That is admirable in a leader; some might even say such leader is presidential.
While TRAIN could have been better without the compromises, all in all, it is a good reform. One that will benefit not just the present but also future generations as Senator Angara said himself in his TRAIN sponsorship speech in September last year:
“As directly elected servants of the public, the Senate has and is continuously listening to our people. We have heard them cry out for many things… All of this is possible with [the] right mix of policy decisions. Decisions that will open up opportunities for our young population. A population which will stay young, well into the middle of this century. This is an advantage we have over our regional neighbors. If we invest heavily in our young people today, a generation from now, we will see more Filipino families leading comfortable and healthy and prosperous lives with better opportunities for their children, and their children’s children. The TRAIN is one of the crucial policy decisions we can make to move our country and our people forward.”
Now, I hope he can pass two other pending (and equally challenging) proposals in his Committee, namely the tobacco tax hike bills of Senators Manny Pacquiao and JV Ejercito (which will provide the funding for the Universal Health Care law and the TRABAHO bill (which will modernize fiscal incentives and expand investment opportunities).
Such will cement his legacy. He will distinguish himself from those who grandstand, those who are myopic, and those who have no guts. As the saying goes, no guts, no glory.
If there is a Sonny Angara legacy that we must remember, it should be Tax Reform. And this I will remember when I vote in the 2019 elections.
Karla Michelle Yu is a coalition builder and campaigner for Action for Economic Reforms.