A tightening noose?

EditorialOPINION
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MONDAY’S State of the Nation Address (SONA) may have gathered thunderous applause from his supporters and political sycophants, but the official calls of the President may have long term effects which all Filipinos, whether living in the Philippines or in other parts of the world, will have to bear long after President Duterte leaves Malacanang.

Among the items the President ticked off his list was the call for the allotment of a billion pesos for overseas Filipino workers. What and where this amount will go to, Duterte left to Congress to decide, but the announcement came in the midst of growing disenchantment particularly among some OFWs. This disillusionment comes with the news that one of his promises may not be the golden ticket he promised them a year ago.

Recently, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s official website could not provide accurate information on the so-called OFW Card which was supposed to replace the Overseas Employment Certificate. This by itself is not enough to cause dissention among the ranks of OFWs. But the news that these cards will not be free as originally promised may have started some quarters to feel once again discarded by government. True, the official rules and regulations for the release of these cards are still forthcoming, and as such speculation as to their actual nature is premature at this time, however, this is difficult to explain as the OWWA website continues to provide paltry explanations.

Almost the same time as this mesh of intrigues and disinformation was being corrected, came another news item which directly affect OFWs and their families everywhere. The Bureau of Customs announced that it will be tightening its procedures towards Balikbayan Boxes which has been the de facto means of sending love to Filipino families by their OFW love ones. These tighter measures include actual itemization of all contents of each and every Balikbayan Box. Officially and at first glance, this move is meant to curb smuggling in the guise of Balikbayan Box items.

However, the inkling that this move is more as a taxation matter becomes more evident when the new rules call for OFWs sending new items through these boxes to their families at home to include copies of the official receipt when sending home their love. What other purpose could that be except to get proper tariffs on the “new items”?

And in Monday’s SONA, the President practically begged the Senate to pass its version of the tax reform law which has been stalled in the ways and means committee since May. Ostensibly again, the tax package would lessen or even reduce to zero the personal income taxes of ordinary Filipinos. However, unknown to most the administration sponsored tax reform law would regain the amounts lost from income taxes from other equally important aspects of Filipino lives.

Chief among these is the proposal to increase tariffs on oil and petroleum products. There are other new taxes or increase in tax amounts in a host of other products proposed by the administration. Of course, any increase in taxes would be borne by ordinary Filipinos through increases in the prices of every day goods and services. Once tariffs on oil products increase, for example, would an increase in the minimum fare be far away? Even prices of grocery items will be affected by any proposed increase in oil tariffs. In the end, whatever advantage a decrease in income taxes could bring is extinguished by the increase of prices of ordinary items on our grocery list.

All these point to a government wanting to live up to its promises but at the same time needing to finance high ticket projects it has in the pipeline. Chief among the projects which the administration needs to finance with the new and increased taxes is the PhP8 trillion in infrastructure projects government has programed for the next five years.

Of course, it is about time that our country bite the bullet. The infrastructure projects which the President proposed are truly necessary for the future development of our country and eventual improvement of our collective lives. And if there is one promise which Duterte made last year which he is keeping to this day is the promise that the first few years will be difficult. Indeed, we are up for more hardships in the coming years, hopefully it will all pan out for the better.

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