WE’RE appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to proactively intervene and prod legislators, especially his partymates and supporters in Congress, to act swiftly and enact the Sin Tax Law. The said law is designed to increase taxes on cigarettes and is geared toward reducing smoking prevalence among Filipinos as well as generate much-needed revenues for the country’s landmark Universal Health Care (UHC) program. While President Duterte has issued a certificate of urgency on the matter, with six days left in session in the 17th Congress, the fate of the sin tax bill hangs in the balance.
Even before the start of the 2019 elections period, several bills on raising tobacco taxes remained pending for over a year in the Senate committee on ways and means chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara. Among these bills are the ones filed by Sen. JV Ejercito (P90/pack), Sen. Win Gatchalian (P70/pack) and Sen. Manny Pacquiao (P60/pack). Recently, these bills were revived by Angara through a committee report in which he proposed a P5 yearly increase in tobacco price until it reaches P60 on the third year of implementation (45-50-55-60 scheme). This committee report has been signed by 11 members of the Senate ways and means committe, namely, Angara, Ejercito, Risa Hontiveros, Win Gatchalian, Ping Lacson, Kiko Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Nancy Binay, Loren Legarda, Miguel Zubiri, and Ralph Recto to open the discussion on raising the tax on tobacco. However, while this is a victory for the cause, signing the committee report need not necessarily signal support from the senators and the passage of this bill still hangs in the balance.
Several health advocates and people’s organizations have been calling for taxing tobacco to the maximum (thus, the slogan “tax tobacco to the max”) because the implementation of the UHC program will be seriously hampered without the potential revenues from a sin tax law. The UHC program faces a PP63-billion deficit, because funding from the national budget, as well as the Pagcor (Philippime Amusement and Gaming Corp.) and PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) combined can only raise P195 billion out of the P258 billion needed by the UHC. Passing a sin tax law, especially at higher levels of taxation, will cut the funding shortfall significantly.
By “taxing tobacco to the max,” more Filipinos can be saved from smoking-related illnesses and deaths, and the UHC program will be in a better position to provide comprehensive health and integrated health programs for all Filipinos. Through “taxing tobacco to the max,” we envision a healthier Filipino population with less smokers, which will therefore result in less government expenditure required for health care. At present, smoking-related annual health expenditure is pegged at the minimum, at P210 billion. Apart from the apparent health and wellness benefits for the Filipino population, it is projected that the freed-up funds due to a better health profile of Filipinos can be used and redirected for infrastructure, education, agriculture, housing, increased job creation, and other social services. (By Social Watch Philippines)