Drilon sees passage of sin tax bill after Aquino certifies its urgency

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Senator Franklin Drilon. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Senate ways and means committee chair Franklin Drilon expects the chamber to approve the controversial sin tax bill on both second and third (final) readings Monday after President Aquino certified it as urgent before leaving for Cambodia.

This means the Senate would approve the contentious bill that hikes revenues from so-called sin products—tobacco and alcoholic beverages— with a little more than two weeks of debate.

Observers noted the similarly controversial reproductive health bill that lays down government endorsement and funding for artificial contraception has languished in the Senate for 15 months, awaiting the closure of debates among senators.

Drilon said Malacañang’s move to certify the sin tax bill as urgent means the Senate can do away with the required three-day interval between second and third readings of the measure.

Senators could immediately approve the bill on third and final reading on Monday right after its passage on second reading, Drilon said.

Senators earlier agreed to hold afternoon-to-evening sessions so that the sin tax bill, whose additional target revenues have supposedly been incorporated in the 2013 budget, could be approved as soon as possible.

After the sin tax bill, the Senate is expected to focus its attention on next year’s proposed P2-trillion national budget.

Drilon said President Aquino “believes the passage of this very important piece of legislation will buttress government health agenda and address the high prevalence of smoking in the country.”

Just the other day, Drilon savored the support of 12 medical health groups that expressed support for his “substitute bill” that aims to raise between P40 billion and P45 billion in additional revenues from tobacco and alcoholic beverages.

Medical practitioners called Drilon’s version a “good compromise” compared to the severely criticized committee report submitted by erstwhile ways and means chair Ralph Recto in October.

Recto’s version of the bill sought increase sin taxes by only P15 billion to P19 billion, an amount that doctors believe would not be enough to discourage people with nicotine and alcohol dependency.

Several colleagues, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Joker Arroyo, Sergio Osmeña III, Panfilo Lacson and Recto have already engaged Drilon in debate over the sin tax bill in the past two weeks.

“We are in the final stretch… but, certainly, without the support of the President, we would not have gone this far,” Drilon noted. “I am confident that our colleagues have seen and realized the importance of this reform measure to a great majority both as a health measure and as a finance bill. I am confident that they will vote for its passage when session resumes on Monday.”

The sin tax debates centered on finding a middle ground between the following concerns: raising enough funds for the government’s Universal Healthcare Program, discouraging smoking and at the same time providing safety nets for tobacco farmers.

The government intends to use the additional sin tax revenue to finance operations and upgrading of government hospitals and provide PhilHealth membership and benefits to 5.2 million poor Filipinos.

Enrile and Marcos, both from Northern Luzon where tobacco farming is concentrated, and Recto lauded the government’s intentions but remained vocal about their concern for tobacco farmers.

The three believe that tobacco farmers stand to bear the brunt of the resulting higher prices of tobacco products.  Additional sin taxes, they allege, could also cause massive displacement of workers in tobacco processing plants.

Enrile warned that provisions of the World Trade Organization could bar the Philippines, as a signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1994, from raising taxes on imported cigarettes.

Santiago, however, insisted the Senate should go even higher than the P40 billion to P45 billion additional revenue target from sin taxes and added she preferred her version of the bill that sought to raise P60 billion in additional tax revenue.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan was the latest to air his concern for tobacco farmers in a radio interview Friday morning.

“I have nothing against the benefits of the sin tax bill but I am concerned about the thousands of tobacco farmers who will be uprooted and displaced by the taxation system. In three years’ time, the low-priced cigarettes will be taxed more than a thousand percent.” Honasan said.

He added that the new taxes would favor imported brands “while subjecting our local brands to a slow death.”

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  • xpider07

    Nakamamatay ang paninigarilyo. Masama sa kalusugan.

  • japokjackpot

    sin tax bill is long overdue. if northern luzon will suffer, support the farmers plant rice again or corn, coffee and other root crops. “the tobacco monopoly was brought in the philippines as an economic program by the spanish governor general jose v. basco in 1782. it became the most important business during the spanish rule”. together, it brought disease. at present, it is one big business wherein taxes levied are low. government needs to step up implementing uniform tax system and have a level playing field among tobacco companies which is dominated by Philip Morris/Fortune Tobacco. British American Tobacco wants to come back. we need to collect taxes that is beneficial to the government. instead of increasing taxes such as VAT and withholding taxes, we can collect more from excise taxes. the fear of smuggling is remote. all the government should do is punish the illegal smugglers or amend certain provisions to specifically identify and prosecute tobacco smugglers. the people in the tobacco sector are the ones who are afraid. i think it’s better for Philip Morris/Fortune Tobacco et al to give back in return to the finances of the government. they have earned a lot for so many long years. and they have caused a lot of health problems and death too. be united with the government. we need sin tax law bill. a sinner can be a saint after all.

  • justice_league03

    this sin tax bill is a little scary. it could cause the local manufacturers of cigarettes and liquor to lose business, which could also result to more unemployment. plus, the government will have additional budget which could open doors for more corruption.

    if urgency certification from the president is all it takes to pass a bill, why cant he do the same with the FOI bill??? especially if some lawmakers are saying that they are running out of time to pass the bill. if the Aquino administration is claiming that they are running a transparent and good governance, they should put more urgency to this bill since it will legitimize their claims. it will have a much clearer basis compared to words that are just coming out of their mouths. after passing the FOI bill, any other bills involving money will not be as scary anymore.

  • Unah_Know

    Kahit na itaas nila ang presyo ng sigarilyo, hahanap ang consumer ng mas
    mura. At anong ang bibilin nila? Smuggled cigarettes.

  • Reneh_almendraz

    Drilon came as a loser in his heated debate with Bongbong Marcos over sin tax measure. Walang palang binatbat si Drilon sa neophtye na si Marcos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elio.madama Elio Madama

    With all my respect to the President of Philippines, I have a question?
    Are you Mr. President a GAY?
    Thanks in advance.

    • yesyesyo

      LOL! What a gay question from a gay PNoy critic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeo.jagonia Jeo Jagonia

    This bill is important! The government, after approving this bill, must work harder to minimize or stop smuggling of cigarettes. Our biggest problem after the passage of this bill is how efficient and reliable our government are against smuggling in a whole! It should be a bill design not to kill the industry and jobs of our people including farmers better create more!. In Singapore for example, they put a big penalty on smugglers while our government are playing around and seems like don’t have a dream for our country! We must be an efficient government to have this bill approved.

    I hope our president or government must serious on their intentions from now on as today’s world is very competitive that needs a competitive mindset and actions!

    Our country must compete in almost everything to deserve a respect from other countries especially bully!

  • Your_King

    Oh I see…i never thought a “certification of urgency” from the President was needed to speed things up. So i guess everything else in the government is missing Aquino’s certificate because everything moves so darn slow?

    • VindictivePanot

      i think corona was given this kind of urgency… hmmm 

      • Your_King

        Yeah…usually political agendas and political battles of Aquino get his certification.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QZZKXPEA67I7HELEIYM35QVYFA Jon

    Bakit yung FOI bill hindi ma-certify as urgent?
    Takot ba silang malaman ang katotohanan?

    • demesamayke

      Hindi lamang ang tobacco industry ang masisira sa mataas na sin tax na ito kundi pati yung hanapbuhay ng tobacco producers – retailers, lahat ng kasama sa tobacco industry.

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