PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent a measure raising excise taxes on tobacco products as a last-ditch effort to pass the bill before the end of the 17th Congress.
The certification of urgency was signed by Duterte on Tuesday, May 28, but a copy was released by the Palace on Wednesday, May 29.
Duterte, in a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, emphasized that the "immediate" enactment of Senate Bill (SB) 2233 would protect public health.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in December 2018. House Bill 8677 seeks to increase excise taxes on tobacco products.
Duterte said increasing the excise tax on tobacco products would ensure the "effective" implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, which was signed in February this year to ensure Filipinos' equitable access to quality and affordable health care services.
"I hereby certify to the necessity of the immediate enactment of Senate Bill No. 2233... to address the urgent need to further protect the right to health of the people and to maintain a broad fiscal space to support the effective implementation of the Universal Health Care Act," the President said.
Certifying a bill as urgent allows Congress to immediately pass it on third and final reading after its approval on second reading.
SB 2233 seeks to impose a P45 excise tax per pack of cigarrete in 2020. The excise tax will go up by P5 every year until it reaches P60 in 2023.
The excise tax on tobacco products will then automatically increase by five percent annually beginning 2024, the measure states.
Duterte certified the Senate bill as urgent, as the universal health care program would need total funding requirement of P257 billion for the first year of its implementation.
To note, only around P217 billion was appropriated for the health care program under the 2019 budget.
The P40-billion funding gap for universal health care program is expected to be taken from the proposed measure raising taxes on tobacco products.
The bill is included in the President's legislative agenda for the 17th Congress. (SunStar Philippines)