QC LGU slams mayoral bet on property tax hike

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THE Quezon City government has criticized Anakalusugan Rep. Michael T. Defensor, who has eyes on the mayoral seat in the 2022 elections, for “misleading the public on an alleged forthcoming tax hike.”

“He is lying,” City Attorney Orlando Paolo F. Casimiro was quoted in a statement as saying. “The ordinance mentioned by the lawmaker has nothing to do with increasing the land tax rate, but refers to the increasing assessed value of properties in Quezon City.”

Casimiro was referring to Ordinance SP-2556, which was passed in 2016 when Mayor Josefina Tanya “Joy” G. Belmonte was still vice mayor and presiding officer of the Quezon City Council.

According to the lawyer, the ordinance was passed in compliance with the mandate of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 (as amended) that all local government units (LGUs) must conduct real property assessment every three years.

Casimiro noted that the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the implementation of the ordinance after it was questioned before the High Court in 2017. The SC junked the petition in 2018.

“It was never enforced as the fulfillment of Belmonte’s promise during the 2019 campaign that her administration won’t increase real property taxes,” the statement said.

Taxes not hiked

ACCORDING to Casimiro, “it is primarily a legislative measure where then-Vice Mayor Belmonte’s role was the presiding officer.”

“As Mayor, she never enforced any increase in real property tax,” Casimiro stressed. “Further, consistent with her policy and in consideration of the plight of the public during this pandemic, no public auction due to real property tax delinquency was ever conducted during her term.”

The official further clarified that the ordinance won’t lead to an increase in land tax as it only correctly adjusts land values so landowners may realize higher returns on their lands.

“The taxes are not to be increased,” Casimiro stressed.

While the city government plans to adhere to the increased land values as mandated by law, the official said that enforcement “is not even near the horizon” as the same has been suspended by the City Council.

Casimiro also pointed out that Defensor’s promise not to increase land taxes in Quezon City is not actually new as Belmonte has been doing it for the past three years.

“Please note that during the [mayor’s] administration, taxes did not increase in the last three years,” Casimiro was quoted in the statement as saying. “So Defensor’s promise is moot and old news already.”

Roots of issue

THE statement from the QC LGU also quoted Vice Mayor Gian Carlo G. Sotto as having declared in a previous statement that there are no new taxes in Quezon City.

Sotto, also the presiding officer of the Quezon City Council, was quoted in the statement as saying that Ordinance SP-2556, S-2016 was passed during the term of former Mayor Herbert Constantine M. Bautista in compliance with RA 7160.

But under Belmonte as vice mayor, the ordinance has been suspended and continues to be not collected on the power of SP-2778, series of 2018, (suspending collection for 2018 and 2019) and SP-8888, series of 2019 (suspending for 2020), Sotto said in Tagalog.

He added that the City Council also passed two more ordinances—SP-2986 and SP-2996—suspending the implementation of SP-2556 in 2021 and 2022.

Sotto called on his colleagues in Tagalog, especially elected officials, to be careful with their statements.

“Tayo po ay patuloy na nananawagan sa ating mga kasamahan sa Lungsod [lalo na at sila ay naturingang mga halal ng taumbayan]  na maging maingat sa kanilang mga inilalabas na pahayag sa publiko.”

Author of ordinance

MAJORITY Leader Franz S. Pumaren as well as Councilor Victor V. “Jun” Ferrer Jr., who authored the ordinance on the suspension of the increase in land valuation, echoed Sotto’s point.

“The alleged tax hike is nothing but fake news. It will remain suspended until Mayor Belmonte is holding office. The truth is, no decent politician will take advantage of the pandemic and the suffering public to sow fear and confusion,” Pumaren and Ferrer was quoted in the statement as saying.

Earlier, City Treasurer Edgar T. Villanueva said the city government continues to “hit and even surpass its own tax collection target” even without additional revenue sources.

The Quezon City government said the LGU collected P22 billion in taxes from local sources in 2020, surpassing its 2019 collection of P19.33 billion. The number did not include other revenue coming from the national government, such as internal revenue allotment (IRA), the statement said.

The tax income came from real property tax, business tax, and other taxes, such as amusement, transfer, contractors and non-revenues such as slaughterhouses.

Promised discount

THE day the Quezon City LGU issued its statement, Defensor also issued his own, promising to grant all 74,750 enterprises operating in Quezon City a 5-percent discount in their local business taxes “so that they can start hiring back laid-off workers.”

“The tax discount is just one of our highly aggressive strategies to swiftly revive all employment-generating economic activities in the city to their pre-pandemic levels,” Defensor was quoted in a statement as saying. “We are counting on the discount to help businesses, especially small and medium enterprises with less than 200 workers, get back on their feet.”

According to the mayoral-hopeful, “with the discount, the city will be putting a total of P625 million in cash back in the pockets of business owners, mostly single proprietorship shops.”

Defensor has filed his certificate of candidacy for Quezon City mayor in the 2022 elections, along with his vice mayoral running mate, former 3-term Representative and now Councilor Winston T. “Winnie” Castelo.

Opening opportunity

ACCORDING to Defensor, registered enterprises in Quezon City paid a total of P12.5 billion in local business taxes in 2020.

“To energize household consumption spending, we will also provide P3 billion worth of direct financial aid to the jobless, informal workers, health staff, teachers, police officers and public-sector employees,” the solon said. “We will stimulate not only the supply side of the local economy by helping industries produce more goods and services, but also the demand side by giving extra-buying power to consumers.”

Defensor said his team previously unveiled their 3-point economic roadmap, worth some P17 billion, to enable Quezon City to recover quickly from the Covid-19 crisis.

Besides the P3 billion in direct financial subsidy to consumers, the plan includes P5 billion in incentives to businesses and P9 billion in new local infrastructure-spending to provide jobs and livelihood support to low-income families.

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