By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Amid protests over what progressive groups call as “bogus public hearings” conducted by the Toll Regulatory Board this week over the planned imposition of the 12-percent Value-Added Tax (VAT) on toll fees, which it would pass on to motorists, the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) announced yesterday they may not implement yet the VAT on toll fees this October 1.
TRB Executive Director Manuel Imperial told reporters they still have to schedule this week a meeting where they would conduct deliberations on the proposed amount of toll fees due to VAT. The imposition of this tax on toll fees is set to raise the cost of using the country’s expressways, which include the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), Skyway, Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR Tollway) and the Manila-Cavite Expressway (Coastal Road).
Another Christmas season toll fee hike
The derided “public hearings” held this week had been met by protests of various alliances of consumers, taxpayers and transport sector.
“All that the TRB did was set public hearings for a show. That is why it is not showing any regard for proper representation,” said Sammy Malunes, spokesperson of TUTOL-SLEX, an alliance of taxpayers and consumers opposed to turning the country’s toll roads into “milking cows” for profits and taxes. The group emphasized that the country’s roads and highways should be regarded as public service and not business.
(Photo courtesy of Tutol-Slex / bulatlat.com)
But “It seems the government and private corporations are all hell-bent on imposing the 12 percent VAT on toll fees, and these hearings are only meant to legitimize what is clearly illegitimate,” Malunes concluded after observing the last day of the “public hearings” and seeing no meaningful exchanges of views between the protesters and the government nor the presence of public officials in charge of the country’s economy.
Indeed, even as the TRB has virtually conceded a postponement of the Oct 1 imposition of VAT on expressway fees, this delay may last for only less than a month, much like what happened to the widely-opposed toll fee hikes it still decided to push through late last year, when Filipinos were in the thick of Christmas preparations.
TRB Executive Director Manuel Imperial said after they decide on the amounts of new toll fees due to VAT, it would be implemented three weeks after publishing the new rates in newspapers. But BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) Commissioner Kim Henares was still reportedly insisting on collecting 12 percent VAT on expressway fees beginning Oct 1.
For that, the group TUTOL-SLEX (or Taxpayers’ Unity vs Toll Fee in South Luzon Expressway) held a picket today in front of the BIR office]to illustrate before the country’s taxmen “how the recent 250-percent toll hike (had) aggravated the situation of end-users and how the imposition of 12-percent VAT on top of this shows how insensitive the government is in dealing with the public welfare.”
It is reportedly the BIR who can halt the imposition of the 12-percent VAT on toll fees. But for TUTOL-SLEX, this does not mean that President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III cannot do anything about it. The group demanded urgent action from Aquino, warning that if he failed to do so, he would likely face “the people’s wrath.”
“President Aquino will definitely face huge protests if he does not act now and stop another round of toll fee hike and the implementation of the 12-percent VAT on toll fees,” said Malunes of TUTOL-SLEX. He added that Aquino “cannot evade responsibility for such an immense burden which he seeks to impose on the Filipino public.”