By Tonyo Cruz
This week, two test cases for President Duterte, the Congress and the whole system.
Early this year, the Supreme Court finally ruled that the government unlawfully collected P5 billion in taxes from minimum-wage earners, and ordered that the amount be returned or refunded to the workers.
The court decision involves the BIR Internal Revenue Regulation 10-2008 which disqualified minimum-wage workers from income tax exemptions for the period June-December, 2008.
In a statement, the Associated Labor Union explained that the estimated P5 billion came from the BIR’s unlawful collections from every worker’s “wage, bonus, and other compensation benefits such as overtime pay, hazard pay, holiday pay, and night shift differential pay, including fringe benefits in excess of P30,000, including those who received their 13th month pay bonus.”
Records show that at that time the minimum wage was at P362 for Metro Manila, and as low as P183 in Bicol.
ALU spokesman Alan Tanjusay said the government should return the unlawfully collected money to workers in cash plus interest.
ALU has slammed the government for its slow action or inaction on the court decision: “We cannot understand why the BIR and the DOF are quick to squeeze money from the workers, but it takes forever for them to return those. Mahiya naman kayo! Those are workers’ blood money. Pinaghirapan na yan ng mga manggagawa, ibalik na ninyo!”
Duterte should execute this order from the court. His administration should return the loot: Poor workers should get back their P5 billion in hard-earned wages.
Meantime, commuters are eagerly awaiting Duterte’s reaction to and action on the two successive incidents at the rotten, privately owned MRT3.
In his campaign, Duterte promised changes for Metro Manila and specifically identified the MRT3 as an area where people should expect change.
More than a year into Duterte’s tenure, his DOTr Secretary Art Tugade cannot brag about any meaningful pro-commuter achievement, yet he has found time to relocate the DOTr office to Clark.
Meanwhile, DOTr and its line agencies have embarked on a war of annihilation against jeepney drivers, shut down the Angkas service, and harassed Uber until it forked out P190 million in fines. The collective brain trust of DOTr cannot solve the problem of ill-fitting new train coaches for the MRT which were ordered by the previous administration.
Elsewhere, Congress should try to find new, innovative solutions to our transport problems, starting with making the DOTr and Tugade accountable for the MRT3 incidents.
There should be accountability for the accidents at MRT3 this week, and for the lack of improvements in this line from the moment Duterte and his sidekick assumed office. They have the power and the responsibility; blaming predecessors for their own ineptitude is plainly unacceptable.
Which brings us to the apologies of pro-Duterte supporters to thwart protests and criticisms from the public.
We’ve heard lots from these partisans who lay the blame on everyone else just to protect Duterte. They don’t care about the public’s plight. They would descend to the depths past officials have gone to – blaming the people for the ineptitude of government, the lack of intelligent and creative solutions, and the oligarhic capture of our both government institutions and the transport sector.
Tax exemptions and transportation are economic and political issues where government has a lead role in creating problems and in either making them worse or in fixing them.
Corrupt and incompetent officials and the vultures of the private sector who wait in the wings for any chance to commercialize public mass transportation in the guise of solving our transport woes – these forces and their false economic ideology are already a huge daily burden to bear.
Duterte and the Congress his supporters dominate have an obligation to use their power to diagnose and to solve problems. They should not blame the people for their failures or for making the problems worse.
In the case of the refunds of illegally collected taxes from minimum-wage earners, all eyes are on Duterte and Congress. They’ve been easy, accommodating and helpful to Big Businesses and foreign multinational corporations.
Would Duterte and Congress immediately take action on returning the P5-billion which government arguably stole from the poorest workers?
Only time would tell, some would say. But in my book and learning from our collective national experience, we may have to fight until every single peso is returned to the minimum-wage earner.
Follow me on Twitter @tonyocruz and check out my blog tonyocruz.com