Roll out fuel vouchers, additional 10% fare discount to shield poor from rising prices, Poe urges gov’t

Where are the fuel vouchers for jeepney drivers, additional 10-percent fare discount and other subsidies to poor Filipinos? 

Sen. Grace Poe raised this question on Friday, June 1, as the government has yet to roll out a flurry of social mitigating measures to help shield the poor from rising commodity prices.

Poe urged the government to release the guidelines to implement the fuel vouchers, additional 10-percent fare discount, and other subsidies to minimum-wage earners, unemployed, and the poorest 50 percent of the population spelled out under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law.

“Una, dapat yung mga fuel vouchers ipamahagi na. Pangalawa, bilisan natin ang pagdidistribute ng pera dito sa unconditional cash transfer kasi may mga ilang porsyento pang hindi nakakatanggap nito so kahit papaano ay malaking bagay iyan,” said Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services and author of Senate Resolution No. 736 that set in motion the legislative inquiry held at the Albay Provincial Capitol about the effects of TRAIN Law on prices of fuel, transportation, electricity and water.

Poe urged the concerned government agencies to immediately implement the social measures, which should be effected retroactively.

“Sana gawin na nila kasi wala pang guidelines na nailalabas,” Poe added.

Transport and consumer groups and student leaders present during the hearing narrated that the Transport department has not yet discussed with them the possible subsidies they could get under the TRAIN Law.

A representative from the Transport department present during the hearing said they have a self-imposed deadline until end-June to publish the rules for Pantawid Pasada Program. Around P977 million is appropriated for the program this year, which would be distributed to some 179,000 jeepney franchise holders, senators were told.

Under Section 82 of the TRAIN Law, jeepney franchise holders are entitled to fuel vouchers; minimum-wage earners and the poorest 50 percent of the population are qualified for fare discounts, discounted National Food Authority rice and free skills training, while a total of 10 million low-income households will each receive P200 per month this year and P300 per month in 2019 and 2020.

However, only 4.4 million families had received the targeted cash transfers.

Five months into the implementation of the TRAIN Law, Filipinos are feeling the pinch of relentless price increases, which critics said have been fanned by the revenue-generating measure that imposed or raised taxes on fuel, vehicles and sweetened beverages.

“Many people feel the effects of higher prices, not just brought about by TRAIN but the world market, the prices of oil, but there are safety nets that we should be able to implement immediately and it’s in the hands now of the government to make sure that those subsidies are distributed on time to our countrymen so that the poorest who are affected by this will be given a reprieve,” Poe reiterated.

During last week’s hearing in Iloilo, Poe called for the immediate suspension of fuel excise taxes amid mounting complaints that the law aggravated price spikes on the back of rising global fuel costs and weakening peso.

But the Department of Finance has opposed calls for the suspension of specific portions or the entirety of the TRAIN Law, saying it was necessary to shore up revenues to finance various infrastructure programs and projects.

The TRAIN law, which overhauled the income tax regime and increased the ceiling for tax-exempt salaries, imposed a new P3 tax for every liter of kerosene, P2.50 for every liter of diesel and bunker fuel, and P1 for every kilogram of liquefied petroleum gas.

Poe’s call comes as the price of cooking gas or liquefied petroleum gas increased by as much as P3.40 per kilogram and as fuel prices have increased for three consecutive weeks. She said that fare discount is also necessary as school opening looms.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda (2nd district), former Socioeconomic Planning secretary and one of the proponents of the TRAIN Law in the House of Representatives, acknowledged that while the TRAIN Law has inflationary impacts, the tax reform law only contributed 0.4 percent to the April inflation.

The former Albay governor also said that about P28 billion is appropriated this year for various measures to mitigate the impacts of the TRAIN Law.