"Loose change" tops the list of issues that the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) has to settle on Friday, three days before it starts imposing a 12-percent value-added tax (VAT) on toll rates on August 16.
TRB spokesman Julius Corpuz said "loose change" is a problem because technically, if a 12-percent VAT will be imposed on the current toll rates, the rate would not always be a whole number.
The Class 1 toll rate from Valenzuela to Balintawak, for instance, is P36. The 12-percent VAT for this rate is P4.32. This would mean that the adjusted toll rate, with the VAT added, would be P40.32, if the figure would not be rounded off to the nearest peso.
In an interview on dzBB radio, Corpuz said toll booths cannot afford to give motorists the exact change An additional 15 to 30-second time delay for giving the exact change could affect the traffic in the expressways, he said.
Corpuz said a meeting has been called on Friday to settle several last-minute matters, including the loose change issue, or the rounding off of the toll rates to the nearest peso.
"Nagtawag ng emergency meeting 11:00 a.m., upang mapag-usapan ang mga bagay-bagay na nabanggit sa Senate public hearing kahapon. The TRB noted the comments of the senators kaya magpupulong-pulong ngayon para mapag-aralan ang issues in relation to the imposition of VAT on Monday," Corpuz said in an interview on dzBB radio.
(The TRB will hold an emergency meeting at 11:00 a.m. to discuss the points raised by senators in Thursday’s hearing. The TRB noted the comments and will discuss the issues the lawmakers raised.)
"Ang hirap kumuha ng barya. Pag ‘di rounded off, magtatagal tayo… dagdag na 15 hanggang 30 seconds ang pagpanukli, hahaba ang pila," (It's difficult to get change. If it wouldn't be rounded off, we're going to take a lot of time, about 15 to 30 seconds to give the exact change and this would cause long lines at the toll booths)," he said.
Corpuz said "e-passes" or electronic transponders used for paying toll fees can automatically deduct toll payments up to the last centavo. However, not all expressways have the gadget and not all motorists want to avail of the system.
Corpuz said the TRB has to consider both the motorists and the investors in deciding how to round off the toll fees. In some cases, he said, the toll fee is rounded off to the lower peso.
"Sa rounding off pwede ka malugi at pwede kang may ganansya (In rounding off, you can gain some, you can lose some)," he said.
BIR not backing down
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) refused to back down from implementing the VAT, citing earlier estimates that the tax could bring P1 billion in additional revenues each month.
BIR Commissioner Kim Henares also said Congress already had its chance to write the VAT law very clearly, before it was signed into law.
"Once lumabas ang batas ang pag-interpret ng batas wala sa intention. Kung ano ang sinulat nila, yan ang intention. Kung may nakalimutan sila bumalik sila at mag-amend sila (Once the law is signed, interpreting the law is no longer Congress' job. If they want to change it, they have to amend it)," she said in an interview on dwIZ radio.
At a hearing of the Senate ways and means committee Thursday Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Ralph Recto and Franklin Drilon said government services were not covered by VAT.
They said it was impractical to implement the tax on tollways, and that it would adversely affect commuters and businesses using the expressways.
Drilon said the imposition of VAT had no legal basis, adding only Congress, and not the BIR, can interpret the law.
Meanwhile, transport groups and some local government representatives from Southern Luzon submitted their opposition to the new rates at a TRB hearing Thursday.
VAT won't take toll Aquino
Commenting on the row over the enforcement of tollway VAT, Henares said the issue will not take its toll on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III's high trust ratings.
She assured the motorists who will be affected by the adjusted toll rates that their money will go to pro-poor projects that Aquino had promised to implement.
"Alam ninyo, hindi ako nag-aalala kasi ginagawa namin ano ang nasa batas. Mahirap talaga mangolekta ng buwis kasi lahat na tao ayaw magbayad ng buwis. Ito mahirap pero dapat may gumawa nito. (Pero) bakit kami nangongolekta ng buwis? Ang pera mapupunta sa pinakamahirap na member ng society," Henares said in an interview on dwIZ radio.
(I am not worried about the VAT affecting the president's high trust ratings. It is a hard job to collect taxes because people are not happy about having to pay taxes. But someone has to do it. And why do we do it? Because the money will go to benefit the poorest in society.)
Aquino enjoys above 80 percent trust ratings so far.
Henares clarified that the tollway VAT is one of the revenue measures that they have to implement and that it is not a new tax.
"Sabi niya di tayo magkakaroon ng bagong panukalang buwis, so gagawin lang namin ini-implement natin ang batas at kolektahin ang dapat kinokolekta para may pera ang gobyerno pantustos sa lahat na programang ito (Aquino said we will not have any new law, so what we will do is implement existing revenue measures. We will collect what needs to be collected so government will have funds for its projects)," she said.
Some of the proceeds of the VAT collection will go to the education, health care, and justice reforms programs of the Aquino administration.
"The President wants to do so much for the poor. How can we do that if we cannot implement revenue-generating programs)?" she said. — LBG/VVP, GMANews.TV