(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Sen. Joker Arroyo challenged yesterday the aspirants in the 2010 presidential elections to make a stand now on current raging issues, particularly the oil price increase and its impact on the people.

“The executive would reduce the tariff rate on crude (oil) by one percent which can be done by executive order. Some senators would want to eliminate the expanded value added tax (VAT) on oil. That needs legislation and they do not need the clearance from anyone to initiate that. Others want to regulate the price of oil. Still, some say allow the market forces to play on and so on,” Arroyo said.

He said the oil price issue should be a test case for the fitness of the people aspiring to become president of the country.

“This (oil price issue) will give the people the chance to judge the presidential timbers, presidential lumbers, presidential driftwood, presidential toothpicks and presidential acrobats on how they will handle it. A presidential expectant cannot be neutral on this matter. He has to take a stand,” Arroyo added.

Arroyo said the people will have the opportunity to compare the present advocacy of the prospective candidates with their past voting records or positions on the issue. The people should be aware of those who easily shift from one position to the other.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II, who voted in favor of the Expanded VAT law in the 13th Congress, was the first to file a bill seeking to suspend the EVAT on oil and other petroleum products for six months to one year.

Roxas is the Liberal Party’s standard-bearer in the 2010 presidential elections.

Other presidential hopefuls in the Senate include Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero and Richard Gordon.

The prospective candidates of the administration include Vice President Noli de Castro and Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando.

Escudero said he would like the 12 percent EVAT on oil permanently scrapped. Legarda also expressed support for the move.

Roxas welcomed the announcement of Escudero, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, that hearings on the proposal to suspend the EVAT on oil will be held before the resumption of session on Jan. 28.

Escudero said he was against the EVAT from the beginning and even questioned it before the Supreme Court when he was still a member of the House of Representatives.

Roxas and Escudero stressed that the P54 billion in annual revenues would not actually be lost once EVAT on oil is scrapped because the money would directly benefit the people.

Despite the opposition from the Department of Finance, Escudero said the members of the House and the Senate would continue to hear what the people were asking for to minimize the impact of the oil price increase.

Escudero said while any revenue measure should emanate from the House, his committee could start hearings on the matter so the bill would be acted upon immediately once it reached the Senate.

“If my committee approves it, it will also pressure the members of the House to pass a counterpart measure because our efforts will be inutile without them enacting a similar version,” Escudero said.

“Hopefully, we will be able to generate public support for this particular measure if indeed we begin the initial step of taking it up and hopefully, approving it at the committee level,” Escudero said.

Both Escudero and Roxas said the government must focus on improving its tax collection rather than continuing to impose EVAT on oil when the price of crude oil per barrel had reached $100 in the world market.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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