MANILA, Philippines—Former Senator Juan Flavier on Friday scored the committee report of Senator Ralph Recto on the sin tax bill for putting the interests of the powerful tobacco lobby ahead of the health of millions of Filipinos.
Flavier, a physician and an immensely popular secretary of health under the Ramos administration, said imposing higher taxes on cigarettes was justified and realistic since the current sin taxes were based on 1996 retail prices of tobacco products.
He urged his former colleagues to pass a sin tax law that would impose a 70 percent excise tax on the retail prices of cigarettes, a move expected to reduce the number of smokers by two million.
“It’s not about passing a sin tax law. It is about passing a sin tax measure at the effective and proper rates. Otherwise, naglolokohan lang tayo (we’re just fooling each other),” said Flavier, who launched the “Yosi Kadiri” anti-smoking campaign and for championing family planning despite the vehement opposition of the Catholic Church.
“Kung gusto nila magpaloko (If they want to be fooled), that’s up to them. But I hope none of them looks to fooling our people as well,” he added.
Recto’s “watered-down” proposal would raise only P15 billion, which is lower than the P30 billion tax measure approved by the House of Representatives. Recto said his report represented an “equilibrium” and that the final form and content of the bill would be up to his colleagues.
Flavier urged the country’s lawmakers to heed the recommendations by the World Bank and the World Health Organization on the proper sin taxes that would curb smoking while generating huge revenues for health care.
“The sin tax bill as originally proposed would have moved us forward. Recto’s version keeps us all in the same place. There is also a preponderance of evidence worldwide that higher taxes achieve two things: they reduce the incidence of smoking by raising prices, and they raise more revenue that we can hopefully plow into health care,” Flavier said.
“If you water down the rates, the twin benefits are diminished,” he added.
Flavier said Recto’s proposal would keep tobacco prices cheap and accessible to the poor and the young.
“Knowing how hard legislation is, it basically extends the status quo for years or at least until we have more progressive senators,” he said.
Flavier said the sin tax bill was first and foremost an anti-cancer tax measure intended to prevent a lung cancer epidemic from breaking out in the country due to the large number of Filipinos who smoke and the availability of cheap cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) warned that Recto’s proposal would continue to create an imbalance between revenues and health costs due to smoking.
“What was so beautiful with the sin tax bill as originally proposed was that even with less people smoking, there would be more tax revenues that can go to public health programs,” the group said.
But with Senator Recto’s watered-down version, the health costs to the Philippines will continue to outweigh any revenues to be generated from a weak sin tax law,” it added.