MANILA – With only nine session days left, the Department of Health and health advocates from the private sector called on the Senate to immediately pass a measure raising taxes on tobacco before the 17th Congress ends.
“Meron pa po tayong siyam na araw para talagang tulungan ang kalusugan ng ating mga kababayan and the DOH is working with the Department of Finance, the Senate, and the Lower House. Talagang pinaghihingi natin ito ng tulong sa lahat,” Health undersecretary Rolando Domingo, DOH spokesman, said in a press conference in the Senate.
Domingo said up to 250,000 Filipinos are at risk of dying from smoking-related illnesses every year if the government does not raise the tax on tobacco to at least P60 per pack.
Three proposals to raise the tax on tobacco are still pending in the Senate Ways and Means committee: Sen. JV Ejercito’s bill raising the tax to P90 per pack from the current P35; Sen. Win Gatchalian’s bill raising it to P70 per pack; and Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s bill raising it to P60 per pack. Malacanang has certified Pacquiao’s Senate Bill 1599 as urgent.
The House of Representatives passed their own measure raising the tobacco tax last year, but at a much lower rate of P37.50 per pack in 2019. The House-approved measure raises the tax by P2.50 per year until it reaches P45 in 2022.
Gatchalian said a nine-day period is enough to pass a higher tobacco tax measure in the Senate and hammer out a reconciled version in the bicameral conference committee with the House.
“Pag nakita naman ng ating mga mambabatas yung wisdom kung bakit mataas ang gusto ng Senado, tingin ko ay magkakaron ng consensus or magkakaroon sila ng meeting of minds,” said Gatchalian.
“Malaking boses ang executive branch pagdating dito sa mga debate at paghahanap ng pinaka-optimum na presyo.”
Domingo said lawmakers should immediately pass the measure to discourage smokers from continuing the habit and potential smokers from getting into it.
He said that when the Sin Tax Reform Act raising taxes on tobacco was signed into law in 2012, smoking prevalence in the country went down to 22 percent from 29 percent.
The latest Pulse Asia survey, however, showed that the percentage of adult smokers in the country has risen to 24 percent.
“Naging best practice po tayo kasi napababa po talaga natin ang paninigarilyo lalo na sa kabataan at mahihirap tapos yung pera po na kinita natin, nagamit po natin yan pagpapaganda ng mga ospital, mga clinic. Na-enroll po natin ang mga senior citizen at indigent sa PhilHealth,” Domingo said.
“Ang problema nga lang po, mas mabilis po yung paglago ng ekonomiya kesa sa pagtaas ng buwis sa tobacco. So yung dati pong naging unaffordable o masyadong mataas para sa kabataan, ngayon po kaya na po nila uling bilhin yung sigarilyo,” he added.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, chairperson of the Council of Past Presidents of the Philippine College of Physicians and a convenor of the Sin Tax Coalition, said the number of smokers in the country could decrease by as much as 847,000 if Pacquiao’s bill is passed. It could decrease by 1.3 million of Gatchalian’s bill is passed, and by as much as 1.9 billion if Ejercito’s P90 per pack proposal is passed.
“Both sa financial aspect and health impact, the higher the tax, the better for Filipinos,” Leachon said.
The health advocates said the passage of a higher tobacco tax measure is also needed to fill the funding gap for the Universal Healthcare program, which aims to give PhilHealth coverage to all Filipinos.
An estimated P258 million is needed to fund the UHC’s first year of implementation in 2020. While the government can source P195 billion from the national budget, PAGCOR, and PCSO, there is a funding shortfall of P62 billion that can be addressed by the passage of a higher tobacco tax measure.
“If they are able to pass this, we would be able to cut the funding shortfall by about half. And yung pera na manggagaling dito will go to help increasing the salaries for public healthcare workers, strengthening primary care services and the expansion of Philhealth insurance coverage and benefits especially outpatient services which will of course benefit the poor,” said Victoria Raquiza, co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines.
“We respectfully call on our legislators to finish the historic task before them and further raise the sin tax on tobacco,” she said. —KBK, GMA News