City dads slam ‘oppressive’ tax hike

SOME members of the Cebu City Council have raised their concerns over the proposed tax increase for 2023 which they deemed “excessive and oppressive” to the people.

Lawyer Jerone Castillo, special assistant of Mayor Michael Rama for fiscal matters and special projects, was bombarded with questions from city councilors during the public hearing for the proposed tax code revision Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.

Castillo appeared before the council as the representative of the executive department that initially submitted the proposed rates for the tax increase.

Councilor Joy Pesquera indirectly said the executive department is acting like Pontius Pilate for passing the burden to the City Council on deciding the fate of the new tax rates.

“We have another Pontius Pilate here in our midst, passing the buck to the City Council... With these proposed increases in business taxes as well as in our real estate taxes, assessment level, and market values we will be able to achieve the Singapore-like taxes,” said Pesquera.

Pontius Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus and sentenced Him to crucifixion after throwing to the crowd the question on who between Jesus and the notorious criminal Barabbas he should pardon before the feast of the Passover. The crowd chose Barabbas.

Pesquera asked Castillo if they had consulted all the barangays that will be affected by the tax increase.

Castillo answered that consultations were made with all parties, saying that they even called all barangays to inform them of the impending tax increase.

The barangay officials should also be equally responsible for informing their constituency about the increase since the barangays will also receive shares from the revenue that will be collected, said Castillo.

Association of Barangay Councils president Franklyn Ong was asked later if he was informed about the barangay consultations, but he said no communication passed through his office.

Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos also expressed her worries that the proposed rates would be burdensome to all residents of the city, especially the poor.

Based on the computation provided by the City Assessors Office to de los Santos, a property owner in Barangay Lahug would have to pay a 3,800 percent increase in their real property taxes should the new rates be approved.

At the current rate, the owner of a 2,000-square-meter property in Sitio Laguerta, Lahug, would pay only P456 per year. But with the proposed increase, the lot owner would pay P18,000 annually.

De los Santos acknowledged the intention of the tax increase, which is to fund the Singapore-like vision of Rama. But she said there are still many who have not completely recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic and recent natural calamities.

Castillo said there is a need to increase the taxes now since government agencies have already called the attention of the city government for not updating its tax code since 2004 and every three years thereafter.

In an interview with SunStar Cebu, Councilor Rey Gealon questioned why the City is now imposing a big-time increase just for the reason that no tax code revisions had been done for many years.

“We understand that because it is mandated by the Local Government Code. But due to the government’s failure to impose the increase every three years, it is no longer affordable to the people,” said Gealon in Cebuano.

Gealon further said he does not have any opposition to the Singapore-like vision but the development of the model country did not happen one time.

Thus, the imposition of a high tax increase should not also happen one time but should be done on a staggered basis, said Gealon.

In a separate interview, Councilor Noel Wenceslao said another public hearing will be conducted to allow the city treasurer and city assessor to speak and answer the queries of the council.

Wenceslao, who chairs the committee on budget and finance and is the proponent of the proposed tax ordinance, added that they will also meet with the executive department to iron out the concerns.