Labor Leaders Gather to Push for Wealth Tax and Progressive Tax Reforms

In an unprecedented move, more than 160 Philippine trade union leaders and tax justice activists from different parts of the country gathered in a forum to discuss wealth tax as a response to the worsening inequality in the country. 

Held on November 5, 2022 the forum had for its theme “Buwisan ang Bilyonaryo, Hindi ang Obrero!” (Tax the Billionaires, Not the Workers!) and was jointly organized by the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) and the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP).

Speakers led by Lidy Nacpil of APMDD and Ka Leody de Guzman of BMP discussed the necessity of pushing for a wealth tax to fund peoples’ recovery amidst the economic, health and climate crises facing the people. 

While the living and working conditions have worsened for the majority of Filipino citizens, especially the working class, the top 50 wealthiest individuals in the country have seen an almost 30% combined increase in their wealth. Combined with the drastic increase in the country’s poverty incidence, this represents an upward transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. This has been facilitated by, among other things, the Philippine government’s regressive taxation policies, characterized by the imposition of excise taxes and value-added taxation (VAT) on a whole range of goods and services, including basic commodities. 

More than 100 participants, including  34 trade union leaders and tax justice activists attended the assembly in Quezon City, even as 70 participants from BMP chapters in Negros, Cebu, Ormoc, and Bicol joined remotely.

Rey Abella of APMDD said consumer-related taxes such as VAT depletes the income of ordinary people, especially workers living on minimum wage. He said that VAT is regressive because it hits the poor more as taxes on consumer goods cut a bigger share of their income compared to the rich, especially billionaires.

BMP chairperson Leody De Guzman said the wealth of the billionaires and the capitalist  class that came from the exploitation of workers are illicit, thus, they must be held accountable by taxing them through a wealth tax.

He said that the burden of  raising revenues for government spending should not be passed on to the poor and working class who are already heavily burdened by neoliberal policies such as privatization of basic social services.  

APMDD coordinator Lidy Nacpil said that “aside from benefiting from regressive taxation, the super-rich are able to evade paying taxes through illicit financial flows (IFFs), particularly by exploiting tax havens in other countries.”

Labor lawyer and BMP president Luke Espiritu denounced the prevailing exploitative practice of  capitalists and businessmen giving only minimum wages to workers.  He said government-mandated minimum wages should only serve as a reference point, or “floor price” or a “limit”. Instead, capitalists should use the minimum wage as a basis for paying workers a liveable wage.

Manjette Lopez, president of the multi-sectoral alliance Sanlakas said that there is an urgent need to transform organized masses in poor communities as active partners in the progressive transformation of political, social, and economic life, and not just mere recipients of aid or ayuda. 

She warned of the unstable global situation characterized by stagflation where prices of commodities continue to rise even as economic growth is slowly grinding to a halt. 

Emma Garcia of BMP Kababaihan (BMP Women) said that women workers face harsh working environments and only receive the minimum wage, yet a major part of their income goes to paying taxes on household consumer goods. She noted the significance and  timeliness of the wealth tax forum as workers fight for  a more progressive taxing system.

The labor leaders saw the need to cascade the concepts learned during the forum  to local unions and localities to build a grassroots initiative for the fight for wealth tax. 

De Guzman reiterated during the open forum that the wealth tax is not the sole advocacy and campaign that will be carried out by BMP, but it is one of the most important issues they have to bear in order to eliminate inequality and other labor-related issues workers are facing. He said  dismantling the neoliberal economic paradigm and pro-elitist, pro-capitalist system is still one of the most important goals the proletariats must achieve.

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