Drilon to lead deliberations on sin tax bill-A A +A
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
MANILA -- Senators accepted Tuesday the resignation of Senator Ralph Recto as chairman of the Senate ways and means committee following criticisms on alleged watered-down version of the Malacañang-backed sin tax bill.
Taking his place for the meantime is vice chairperson Senator Franklin Drilon, according to Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
Recto did not attend the two-hour meeting supposedly out of delicadeza. He tendered an irrevocable resignation and withdrew his highly criticized committee report on the sin tax measure, saying he would want to give his successor a freehand to draft a new report on the bill.
Prior to Tuesday's caucus, Drilon said Senate Bill 3299 sponsored by Recto on the floor last week can still be used during debates.
"I think the public interest will dictate that we maintain the committee report, and we debate on it and at the appropriate time, we submit the amendments. We do not have to start from scratch," he told reporters, adding he might push for a version closer to the Palace's goal of P60 billion in projected revenues.
Drilon gave a self-imposed deadline of mid-November to pass the measure despite the chamber's pre-occupation with the P2-trillion proposed national budget for 2013.
"Our target is mid November, but if worse comes to worst, we can extend it a bit," he said.
Absent from the caucus as well was Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has been sidelined due to hypertension.
"I have to be on sick leave this afternoon and tomorrow (Wednesday). Yesterday (Monday), I left the session early, because the Senate doctor read my blood pressure at 170/90, which is hypertensive," she told Sotto in a letter.
Also on Tuesday, Malacañang denied any involvement in the resignation of Recto as chairman of the Senate committee of ways and means.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang did not pressure Recto to resign his committee chairmanship.
"The decision to resign by Senator Recto is his own prerogative. We didn't have any hand there," Lacierda said.
Sin tax reform advocates charged Recto of having conflict of interest by proposing a "watered-down" version of the sin tax bill, citing the presence of $300-million Philip Morris plant in Tanauan City in Batangas, the senator's home province.
Recto has been in a hot seat after presenting an apparent watered-down version of the sin tax bill with projected revenues of P15 billion to P20 billion, way lower than the P60 billion version of the Department of Finance and the P31 billion revenues from the version of the House of Representatives.
Malacañang said it hopes that Congress will pass a sin tax measure that would address and sufficiently fund the universal healthcare program of the administration.
Lacierda said, however, that the Palace is letting Congress to work on the timeline for the passage of the measure.
He said they would consult with their allies in the Senate on what to do following Recto's withdrawal of his committee report.
In the House of Representatives, incoming Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said he is keen to continue pushing for his own version of the sin tax bill.
"I want my version (of the sin tax bill) passed. In fact, I wanted my original version approved. The revenue proposed there is P60 billion," said Abaya, chairman of the House committee on appropriations.
Abaya, however, will no longer be able to defend the House version of the sin tax measure. He is set to leave the House to assume his post as Department of Transportation and Communication chief next month.
"It all ends up in the bicam (bicameral conference committee). There are more able-bodied persons (in the House) to take it up there," he said.
Abaya stressed that reforms in healthcare is a more important issue than the revenues, which the government stands to gain from higher sin taxes.
"Definitely, we want to have more deterrence to smoking and drinking. The revenue is only a consequence of it," he said.
The group Health Justice, meantime, said tobacco will kill an estimated one billion people in the 21st century, in absence of aggressive action by government to advance tobacco control.
The group said the next head of the powerful Senate ways and means committee must strongly consider the health aspect of the bill.
The group said about 240 Filipinos die every day due to tobacco-related diseases, according to the Department of Health.
"It is important to keep in mind that the protection of our countrymen's health and wellbeing is the priority," the group said.
"This is what the next committee chair should focus on. He or she must be able to heed the call of the people for a sin tax bill that will address the growing epidemic of tobacco-related diseases in this country," it added.
The sin tax bill is being eyed by health advocates as an important measure that would lead to increased prices of tobacco saying an expensive tobacco product would make it less accessible to the poor and youth sectors. (Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Kathrina Alvarez/HDT/Sunnex)