Manila, Jan. 21, 2003 - (Tribune) - Protesting actors, singers and other entertainers along with leaders of professionals' organizations yesterday trooped to the Senate in the hope of convincing the chamber to act on the immediate repeal, if not suspension of the imposition of the 10-percent value added tax (VAT).

Senators, while acceded in giving them an audience emphasized during a dialog they would not be pressured to come up with a formal position on the matter unless the House had fully accomplished its task on the matter.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Sen. Ralph Recto, ways and means committee chairman, promised to expedite the conduct of the public hearings on the matter based on the fled resolutions before the chamber.

Drilon, Recto along with Sen. Joker Arroyo made it known to the protesting artists the Senate does not have the power to suspend the implementation of the 10-percent VAT on them, said to provide government additional P8 billion in revenues annually, as the law on the expiration of exemption had already lapsed.

Movie icons and other celebrities, clad in all-black outfits, staged a demonstration in from of the Senate building in Pasay City to denounce the implementation of the VAT law on them that incidentally had been deferred for another month by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

More than 500 of them that included broadcast personalities, doctors, lawyers and other professionals covered by the law decried what they claimed as unjust, oppressive and discriminatory revenue measure.

Seen among them were so-called king of Philippine movies and alleged presidentiable Fernando Poe Jr., Rodolfo "Dolphy" Quizon, Richard Gomez, German Moreno, Eddie Garcia, Philip Salvador, Martin Nievera, Eddie Guttierez, Herbert Bautista, Lani Mercado, Annabel Rama, Mitch Valdez, Freddie Aguilar and a number of others. Ilocos Norte Representative Imee Marcos, a TV drama actress, playwright, director and producer, joined the group.

Minority leader Vicente Sotto III and senators Ramon Revilla Sr., Francis Pangilinan, Robert Jaworski Sr. and Luisa Ejercito-Estrada took time out to be with them and vowed to rally behind their move.

The artists' representatives were summoned to the office of the Senate president where they confronted the chamber's members to question the Senate's alleged inaction on the bill.

Gomez lamented that they have been opposing the VAT since three years ago, but no action had been taken by Congress.

Sen. Arroyo lashed back at them saying that if they were able to convince the BIR to suspend its implementation this month for another month, they could do so by conducting another lobbying effort.

Drilon said while the Senate is awaiting the transmittal of the House of its version of the tax measure deferring the Vat on professional, the movie industry leaders and organizations should lobby the Department of Finance (DoF) for further extensions for the implementation of the tax scheme.

The work in the Senate practically came to a halt as employees were in mad frenzy to see their favorite artists, hug them, ask for their autographs.

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho said he was set to dialogue with the protesting actors, actresses, film directors and many others late today at Annabel's, a restaurant in Quezon City where the entertainment industry usually launches films and other programs.

He plans to convince such vocal advocates against the VAT on professionals as actor Richard Gomez and comedienne Ai Ai de las Alas on the equity of the tax deferred quite a number of times already over the last five years.

"It is time for all the other (professional) sectors to make the effort and contribute," Camacho yesterday said.

He was optimistic the planned meeting today would lower the entertainment industry's resistance to the tax which for the last 16 years more or less has burdened everyone else.

"With the correct information there will be less resistance," Camacho said optimistically.

He noted the protestors have not fully understood the mechanics by which the VAT law, whose coverage was expanded in 1997, would impact on their income.

Camacho insisted, the misinformation notwithstanding, the VAT on professionals "is an old law."

He also lauded the efforts of Recto to clarify issues for and against the tax in various public fora.

The legislator's wife, actress Vilma Santos, is now the mayor of Lipa City.

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