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TRAIN: A new wave of war against the poor

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law will gravely hurt the poor, and the administration was aware of it from the beginning.

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We are, once again, being strangled by the despots that lead the very country that they promised to secure and we are doomed enough to witness.

With the new tax reform law at hand, the lives of the Filipinos, especially the citizens in the middle class and the poor sectors, are terribly at stake as they will be asked to make further sacrifices and pay more taxes to fund a grandiose program of the government.

As we celebrated the new year, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, or Republic Act No. 10963, left its station and started moving on the rails—a big leap after living in the shadows and remnants of the outdated National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) for 20 years.

A major component of the new law, and rather drastic change from NIRC, is reducing the personal income taxes of the citizens: An individual with a taxable income of 250,000 pesos or less is, from now on, exempted from income tax and those with a taxable income of above 250,000 pesos would be subject to the tax rate of 20 to 35 percent effective this year, and 15 to 35 percent effective on 2023.

Additionally, it abridges the estate tax, the donor’s tax and the Value Added Tax. But, in turn, it imposes higher excise taxes on automobiles, cigarettes, manufactured oils (petroleum products) and mineral products; on passive incomes, including interest income from dollar and other foreign currency deposits; and on documents (Documentary Stamp Taxes).

To top it all off, the new law also introduces new taxes levied on sweetened beverages, non-essential services (invasive cosmetic procedures), and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office winnings.

In short, while TRAIN cuts some taxes, it also increases the taxes on various products—particularly on basic commodities.

Will the new income taxes even matter, particularly to the poor who are mostly minimum wage earners to begin with, now that people have to pay a higher price on the commodities and the necessities of daily living?

It is with great insult that I find the administration has taken us for indolent fools allergic to heavy text and numbers.

It is, however, with much joy do I indulge myself into, knowing how careless and the real fool the current administration is in embarrassingly trying to cloak itself as “for the poor.” Among others, take the jeepney drivers for example: After slapping and exhausting them with plans of jeepney modernization, the government, again, mercilessly hits the drivers with a great hike in diesel.

If the dogs of President Duterte—and even he, himself—continue denying the obvious, they should do a better job at hiding the evidence.

Furthermore, TRAIN embodies the demise of employment in the country—an increase in fuel is basically the bearer of inflation and one who tips the first domino in line. In fact, several employers of companies are now at unease, noting that they have not included the sudden shift in their plans and marketing strategies. Prices of goods, even those untouched by the excise tax, have also been soaring since the implementation of TRAIN.

The new law has practically campaigned the crucial and decades-old problem of the country: Poverty. With all the unjust hikes, we might as well witness more people starving in the streets, and the police, with guns on their hands, taking “care” of them.

TRAIN will gravely hurt the poor, and the administration was aware of it from the beginning. So, the Department of Social Welfare and Development provides a program that will transfer 200 pesos per poor family per month for this year, and stokes to 300 pesos in 2019 and 2020.

But are these enough to aid each poor family that constitutes the majority of the country? More so, how sure are we that these politicians will not exploit the transfers, like what they are doing with the workers now, given that they cannot even present a detailed budget plan with TRAIN’s revenues and when they cannot even solve their own case of chronic corruption, especially in the Bureau of Customs?

As much as TRAIN will likely yield a positive look for the country, the ambitious program it supports still remains a big if, a question mark. Are we really willing to let the people suffer and receive the burden of hopes plastered on a project that is even uncertain to succeed?

This is no less than the administration’s campaign against drugs. The people, mainly the poor, are not funding the “Build, Build, Build” program with money but with blood.

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Ang kabataan ay lalaban

Ito ang panahon upang basagin ang takot, maghimagsik at kumilos, sapagkat ang magbalikwas ay makatarungan sa harap ng isang berdugo at pasista tulad ni Duterte.

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Malinaw sa atin ngayon na pinaninindigan na ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ang pagiging pasista.

Makapal man ang piring ng kanyang mga sunud-sunuran sa kanyang walang-awang pamamaslang at patuloy na pagpapahirap sa mga maralita, magsasaka at mga katutubo, gayundin sa kanyang panunupil sa mga kritiko at mga mamamahayag, ang kabataan ay hindi mananahimik.

Ngayong araw, daan-daang mga mag-aaral mula sa iba’t ibang mga paaralan at pamantasan ang muling magmamartsa at magtitipun-tipon sa Mendiola upang ipakita ang kanilang pagtuligsa sa pasista at berdugong si Duterte. Nakasisiguro ako na ang kanyang mga kampon sa social media ay muli na namang babatikusin ang mga lalahok sa pagkilos na mag-aral na lamang sa halip na magprotesta sa mga lansangan.

Kung maari ko po lamang ipaalala sa mga nakatatanda, hindi na bago ang pagkilos ng mga mag-aaral at kabataan sa loob man o labas ng bansa—nasa tradisyon na ng mga Pilipinong mag-aaral at kabataan na tumindig laban sa mga manlulupig, mula kina José Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio at iba pang mga bayani ng himagsikan, hanggang sa mga mag-aaral na nangahas na lumaban sa diktadurang Marcos noong Sigwa ng Unang Kwarto at maging ang apat na araw na pagkilos sa EDSA na nagpabagsak kay Marcos na siyang gugunitain natin ngayong Linggo.

Handa ang kabataang Pilipino, kasama ng malawak na hanay ng masa, na lumaban at magbuwis ng buhay para sa kalayaan at makatarungang pagbabago. Ipinapakita lamang nito na, sa kabila ng lahat ng mga natututunan ng mga kabataan sa loob ng kanilang mga silid-aralan, hindi sila nagpapakulong sa intelektwal na tore ng akademiya at bagkus ay handa silang tumugon sa lipunan gamit ang kanilang mga natutunan.

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Subalit, sa panahong ito, matindi ang hamon sa kabataan, lalo na sa harap ng laganap na indibidwalismo at pagkakanya-kanya, na magmulat, mag-organisa at magpakilos.

Napakadaling magbulag-bulagan, magbingi-bingihan, at patuloy na manahimik; napakadali ring magkunwari na may nagagawa ang pag-“like” at “share” sa social media na baguhin ang mga konretong suliranin ng lipunang Pilipino. Bagamat dapat nating gamitin ang social media upang ipahayag ang ating pagtuligsa sa pamahalaan, wala itong saysay at magiging mga simpleng salita lamang kung hindi ito tatapatan ng konreto at kolektibong pagkilos—isang pagkilos na nagpapakita ng pakikiisa ng kabataan sa pakikibaka ng malawak na hanay ng masang api na wala sa burgis na espasyo ng social media.

Sa panahong tumitindi na ang mga pasistang pag-atake ng pamahalaan sa mga aktibista, mga kritiko, at sa mismong sandigan ng demokrasya sa Pilipinas, ito ang oras upang kumawala sa tanikala ng ating pananahimik. Ito ang panahon upang magsalita. Ito ang panahon upang basagin ang takot, maghimagsik at kumilos, sapagkat ang magbalikwas ay makatarungan sa harap ng isang berdugo at pasista tulad ni Duterte.

Ito ang panahon upang muling magtungo sa lansangan, kung saan ang kabataang naglilingkod sa sambayanan ay titindig at lalaban.

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‘Why are you so hateful?’

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Often after the publication of a scathing critique or an explosive exclusive on TomasinoWeb, several individuals would go on Twitter and comment on how the article is supposedly seething with hatred. Of course, the commentaries from Twitter are usually less eloquently worded — some simply say, “this article is full of hate” — but regardless of the lack of linguistic finesse, the message they are trying to communicate is clear: The people behind the official digital media organization of this University is propagating hate.

But first, let us define “hate.” According to the ever-trusty Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hate is “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.”

Looking back at my last year in the University, I have felt all three sources of hate: I have been afraid of not finishing my degree, of not accomplishing my thesis, of failing to submit crucial requirements, of failing TomasinoWeb, and of failing myself. I have been angry at incompetent groupmates, at heavy traffic and LRT disruptions, at jeepney drivers who insist that I have not paid, at friends, at my family, and at myself. Many times over the past year, I found myself hurt by the product of my shortcomings — all the failures haunted me at night and it made me angry, it made me afraid, and the cycle of hatred continued.

Even beyond the personal, I also felt fear, anger and a sense of injury.

I feared policies and systems in place which only served to repress people. I was angry at those too, and even furious at people who were capable of addressing these unrestrained exercises of power, but chose to turn a blind eye or worse, participate — all for their personal gain. I felt hurt and betrayed by these people, some of whom I believed and trusted in and eventually voted for. Moreover, I was hurt during times when I, TomasinoWeb, members of the campus press, ordinary students and ordinary citizens became targets of repression.

Perhaps, people were correct to tell me that I was hateful: I hated systems that oppress and repress people. I hated the people who continue to enable and perpetuate these systems. But is it wrong? Is it morally incorrect to feel repulsion towards injustice?

During our retreat at Caleruega in Batangas, we were told of a quote by anti-Nazi German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

When our block went to Pansol, Laguna for a swimming trip, I and The Varsitarian Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Baylon got to talk while we splashed around in the hot spring pool. At one point in our intoxicated babble, we told each other that we have developed a dislike for our job. It is far too demanding for hardly any recognition. We had to deal with staffers, complaints from readers and deadlines while dealing with papers and projects for our classes. We could have chosen the life of an ordinary Journalism student at the Faculty of Arts and Letters. We could have quit earlier and lived a quieter collegiate existence. It was just easier to not care about pressing issues in the University.

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But as much as we disliked doing our job, we did it anyway. Both of us felt that we were morally obliged to our publications and to the students. We needed to tell stories — both good and bad — not because we were serving an agenda or we hated the subjects of our stories. Kathryn put it best, “Baka kasi mahal pa rin natin ito.”

I believe that there is no love which is not difficult, and loving this University is no different. It was hard to love an institution marred by controversies and I would have to admit that at one point, I found myself saying that I hated this institution — but UST taught me better. Early on, I learned that hate is not the opposite of love, but indifference. Apathy is the antithesis of compassion and not antipathy.

Turning a blind eye is easier than gluing both eyes and telling stories. But I cannot bear the heavy burden of indifference, especially if I love this institution so much that I want it to change for the better.

A mother does not hate her drug-addicted son if she turns him in to the police. Love is what moved her to choose losing constant contact with her son rather than allow his self-destructive lifestyle to continue. It is a difficult kind of love, but it is a noble one.

Xave Gregorio, Editor-in-Chief

At this point, I would like to thank my parents for loving me so much that they sent me to UST and spent a hefty sum of money to earn a degree of my own choice. Thank you for feeding, clothing and sheltering me, and for constantly guiding and affirming me, especially in times when I felt lost and worthless.

I am grateful for the love of Lorenzo Gantuangco that had kept me moving. These past two years would have been far more difficult without you.

I thank Roselle Habana, Michelle Del Agua, Armando Razon, Penny Cuenca, Marla Papas, Tovy Bordado and Anna Mogato for their various expressions of love. You are people I could always count on. Trust that you can always count on me too.

To the crazy kids of 4JRN1, I love all of you. I am proud of what we have achieved. I know that we can get to greater heights.

My fellow TomasinoWeb editors and Core officers, I admire the love that you have poured out for our organization to keep it running. For those who will remain and become the next set of editors and officers, I hope you exhibit the same love that we have shown. Make TomasinoWeb your partner (or third party, if you already have a partner.)

To my teachers from nursery up to my senior year in college, your love for educating students put me where I am now. Thank you for everything.

Finally, for my fellow Thomasian graduates, always be moved by love to speak out against injustice and to serve the people.

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Remember to remember yourself

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After four grueling years, my college days have come to an end. My stay in the University of Santo Tomas has concluded, and with a heavy heart, I bid my home goodbye. If anything, this has a personal touch. I am writing this piece for Thomasians I will be leaving behind because there is so much that I want to impart.

Having graduated as an achiever in elementary, I entered high school with a head held high. I was enrolled in one with a science curriculum, so I felt highly and remarkable. I thought I was invincible, that I can do anything. Two months in, however, and I knew I was wrong. Suddenly I was slapped with the brutal reality that I cannot do and process a lot of things. I’m not wholly good in Physics, my brain isn’t wired for Biology, and General Chemistry is Greek to me. I was failing my math subjects, and my sciences started to look grim. Because of these, the way I looked at myself changed — I felt dumb, and I often compared myself with others. How did they get a 95, when all I got was 70? I then developed a habit of always looking down on myself. I never expected that I will be able to achieve something, let alone be enough for anything. I started hating myself for the things I couldn’t do.

I brought this negativity with me in college. Because I met new people, I had to set up the pretentious façade of happiness. Don’t we all? We engage in the thought of setting up a new persona just because we entered a new stage in life. Unfortunately, the thought backfired. On the outside, I was happy and carefree. In actuality, however, I grew more emotionally distant, and more dangerously comparing. On the other hand, the expectations people had for me stuck, and I dragged each of them as if they’re heavy weights.

Imee Advincula, Vice President for Publicity and Communications

As both a motivation and an inspiration to work harder, I used my self-disappointment and others’ expectations to propel myself forward. I engulfed myself with the reassuring thought of doing things for those who believed in me. In my journey towards my erroneous notion of success, I experienced testing not my mental and emotional limits, but my physical health. I came to know the feeling of being awake for 52 hours, the palpitations that come after consuming three Red Bulls and five coffees, the hellish pain of having consecutive episodes of tension headaches. I reached my breaking point, and I even stood on top of it. I gave my all, hoping that the negativity will leave my mind.

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Guess what? They didn’t.

Pressure flashed through me. Self-doubt creeped in. Disappointment came in waves. Fun fact: I can’t swim. I sank even lower, and I drowned.

And maybe, just maybe, that is my biggest mistake. I focused on all the wrong things. I got so lost in the cycle that I forgot what truly mattered. Don’t get me wrong — education matters. Experience matters. Success obviously matters. But I became too obsessed with all the “important” stuff that I lost sight of myself. I became too committed to being competent and compassionate for others that I disregarded any compassion I should have for myself. I traded my peace for anxiety, my calm for distress.

As I entered Senior year, I concentrated in healing myself. I let go of all my worries, and I positively accepted everything that came my way. I returned the value, confidence, and self-respect I denied myself for three college years. It’s hard, and I haven’t fully recovered yet. I am recuperating, and I am having better days.

Thus, I say this to you who will be left behind: please do remember to value yourself. Your worth as a human being is not tantamount to the numbers they use to evaluate you, and your success as a person is not dependent on the number of expectations you meet. It feels good to be committed, competent, and compassionate, but it’s completely alright if the person you are wholeheartedly compassionate for is yourself. Just enjoy the process, study carefree, and do not mind what others think, as long as you’re not doing anything wrong.

The world is vast, and much lie beyond. There will be harder times. Remember yourself, and do not get lost.

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