DIGNIDAD presscon

FDC President Dr. Ed Tadem joins the panel of speakers during the 1 February 2016 press conference of BUHAY NA MAY DIGNIDAD PARA SA LAHAT (DIGNIDAD!) on the SSS pension increase. DIGNIDAD is a newly-established broad platform of citizens' groups advancing an agenda that will ensure a life of dignity for all Filipinos. The panel includes Independent Senatorial Candidate Dr. Walden Bello, Prof. Rene Ofreneo (DIGNIDAD spokesperson), Atty. Aaron Pedrosa (Sanlakas), Atty. Gen Du (Umalab Ka), Wilson Fortaleza (Partido Manggagawa), Aura Sevilla (COSE), Trining Domingo (KABAPA), Maria Flores (Kaisahan ng Maliliit na Magsasaka Partylist) and Salve Basiano (SSS Pensioner).

The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) joins the aggrieved 2.15 million pensioners of the Social Security System (SSS) in urging the Philippine Congress to override President Aquino’s veto and proceed to enact the law granting a PhP2,000 across-the-board increase in monthly pension. Further, FDC recommends that our lawmakers take this issue a step higher and immediately review the SSS social insurance scheme because clearly, this fails to protect members at old age. Not even with the P2,000 hike.

Paying attention to the financial security of retirees is long overdue. Beyond question, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure this. Aquino should be shaken out of his habit of rejecting proposals entailing public subsidies even if these would improve the lot of millions of Filipinos. Take the individual income tax cuts bills languishing in Congress, for example. And now the SSS pension increase.

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Militant groups paraded a jolly big fellow near Malacañang this morning and it’s not the one in a red suit. It’s SanTax Claws in a black jacket, a bagful of money, and with basic sectors tied up as his reindeers.

“This is a mockery of the skewed policies and priorities of the Aquino administration and the ones before it. What prevails is the interest of the elite, of the capitalists, and the people are the ones slaving away for them,” said James Miraflor, Vice-President of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC).

Unlike its generous counterpart, FDC’s SanTax Claws does not reward good behavior and does not give gifts. Instead he takes away the people’s money and strength and denies them access to services.

“Aquino rejects lowering of taxes of compensation income earners because he says his government needs revenues for social and economic services. What services is he talking about, he and his predecessors have been privatizing everything—power, water, health, transportation. Instead of being public services, these sectors are now lucrative businesses for private investors,” Miraflor said.

FDC has been criticizing Aquino’s fiscal policies and just recently, his rejection of proposals to amend personal income tax rates and brackets which were determined 18 years ago. The group insists on a progressive taxation system in which those who earn more pay higher taxes.

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Ayon sa pantas na si Mahatma Gandhi, kahirapan ang pinakamalalang tipo ng karahasan. Ang dating Pangkalahatang Kalihim ng United Nations na si Kofi Annan ay nagpahayag din na sa tuwing tayo ay may naiaahon sa kahirapan ay naipagtatanggol natin ang karapatang pantao; at kung magiging bigo tayo sa misyong ito, hindi natin tinutupad ang karapatang pantao.

Batid nating lahat ito. Sa katunayan, palagiang layunin ng mga pandaigdigang kasunduang tulad ng papatapos na Millenium Development Goals at magsisimulang Sustainable Development Goals na wakasan ang kahirapan at hindi pagkakapantay-pantay. Sa mga kasunduang ito at ano mang alinsunod na lokal at pambansang programa, sentral na usapin ang paglalaaan ng budget at paghahagilap ng pondo para rito. Kaya’t malimit nating binubisisi ang pagpapataw ng buwis, ang pambansang budget at paggasta nito sapagkat sinasalamin nito ang tunay na prayoridad ng gobyerno.

Matagal na nating iginigiit ang isang progresibong sistema sa pagbabayad ng buwis at makatarungang paggasta ng pamahalaan. Alinsunod sa laki ng kinikita ang halaga ng buwis na binabayaran at gagamitin ang malilikom na pondong ito upang tiyakin ang pampublikong serbisyo lalo na sa mga mahihirap.

Ngunit hanggang ngayon, sa likod ng matatamis na pangako, mapait ang katotohanang pilit na pinabubulaan ng mga nakaraan at kasalukuyang administrasyon. Paulit-ulit tayong binibigo ng mga humahawak sa kaban ng bayan. Sa halip na masugpo, umakyat pa ang bilang ng mga Pilipinong nabubuhay sa kahirapan mula 24.6 porsyento ng populasyon noong 2013 papuntang 25.8 porsyento nitong nakaraang taon. Ginagawang kontraktwal ang trabahong regular. Tinitipid ang pa-sweldo at benepisyo ng mga manggagawa at mas madalang pa sa pagbuo ng quorum sa Kongreso ang umento sa sahod.

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For the second time, President Aquino rejected proposals for personal income tax cuts on the basis of anxiety over the implication of a resulting P30 billion forgone revenues while completely ignoring the urgency of an updated indexation of fixed-income earners’ salaries to prices. For the Freedom from Debt Coalition, this is another clear display of Aquino’s fiscal double standard as it reveals this administration’s twisted practice of collecting more from the poor while incentivizing the rich.

Multiple burdens already weigh down ordinary workers who, amid oppressions of contractualization and casualization, struggle for daily survival on their measly wages. Indisputably, not living but “libing” (interment) wage as labor groups call it as it can barely ensure sustenance and is lightyears away from providing for a life of dignity.

These ordinary workers are now even denied of their rightful claim to whatever little enjoyment such wages can afford as they are saddled with an unjust income tax scheme that was determined 18 years ago. In 2014, the peso’s purchasing power was already at 43.8 percent or less than half of what it was in 1998, when the current personal income tax brackets were first implemented. Now, low-income earners can hardly pay even for basic goods and services while still subjected to paying the same taxes pegged at a time when the cost of living was lower than the present.

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While we at the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) welcome President Aquino III’s stand against increasing the regressive Value-Added Tax, we are appalled at his reasoning against income tax cuts. He could have grabbed the opportunity to review and reduce the unjust tax burden on ordinary Filipinos, particularly the fixed-income earners, but his line of thinking immediately jumps to calculating possible revenue deficits and how this would affect the country’s credit ratings.

Aquino III does not even bother to look at existing tax rates and tax brackets that have become passé considering today’s higher cost of living compared to 1997 when the rates and brackets were last determined. He is worried over the P30 billion lost revenue if income taxes are lowered but he is at ease with billions of pesos of forgone revenues due to fiscal incentives given to private investors. Worse, he remains resolute with losing billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money to service debts that are challenged as fraudulent, useless and/or wasteful.

For 2015 alone, out of the P372.9 billion appropriation for interest payments, P187.21 million will be paid for loans spent for the Tullahan (Sixth) Road Project, the Power Sector Development Program, the Pampanga Development Flood Control, the Bohol Irrigation Phase II and the Angat Water Supply Optimization. Another USD 28.353 million will go to principal amortization of these same projects. And these are just five questionable projects; more could have been revealed had Aquino III and his allies, like Budget Secretary Butch Abad, did not block FDC’s moves for Congress to conduct an Official Audit of all Philippine debts.

What compounds the problem with payments for illegitimate debts is that they do not undergo scrutiny of Congress because the law provision on automatic appropriations for debt service remains in place and continues to undermine the people’s power of the purse.

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