BICAM PASSAGE OF LOW TOBACCO TAX BILL DISMAYED SEN. PACQUIAO
By Aquiles Z. Zonio
Tue, 19 Dec 2017
GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Protecting public health against the menace of cigarette smoking is more important than money.
This was emphasized by Senator Manny Pacquiao who expressed dismay over the passage by the bicameral conference committee of low tobacco tax bill.
The bicameral panel of both houses passed earlier last week the final version of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill, seeking to cut the tax rate on low income earners but impose higher levies on fuel, cars, coal, tobacco, and mining, among others.
The TRAIN bill, once signed into law, is expected to generate some P130 billion revenues for the national government.
Senator Pacquiao claimed he was taken aback by the decision of the bicameral panel to adopt a lower tax on tobacco products.
The bicameral committee decided to approve the tobacco tax bill despite the fact that the Senate has yet to pass its own version of the controversial bill.
Under RA 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Act of 2012, the tax rate for tobacco products next year would be P31.20.
If TRAIN is signed into law, this would increase to P32.50 for the first six months of 2018.
It would then increase to P35 from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019.
A tax of P37.50 would then be imposed from 2020 to 2021; P40 by P2022 to P2023; and a 4% annual increase after that.
Sen. Pacquiao filed Senate Bill 1599 last Oct. 3, proposing to increase the current tobacco tax rate of PhP30 pesos per pack to PhP60 pesos in 2018 and nine percent per year thereafter.
SB 1599, once enacted into law, will prevent 200,000 new smokers next year and further reduce the number of smokers by one million by 2022, mostly from the poor and young populations.
Currently, 150,000 Filipinos die due to smoking, the reason why Sen. Pacquiao is hellbent on pushing for the passage of SB 1599 to protect the Filipino people from tobacco-related deaths and diseases.
Sen. JV Ejercito also filed Senate Bill 1605 which seeks to impose a much higher tax on cigarettes – from PhP 30 to PhP 90.00 pesos in 2018 – followed also by nine percent increase per year after the first year.
The Sin Tax Reform Act was passed primarily to curb cigarette and alcohol addiction, as well as, to raise government funds for the implementation of Universal Health Care (UHC).
The Senate has yet to deliberate on SB 1599 and SB 1605 when it resumes session on January 15 next year.
“We agreed at the Senate to discuss my proposed Tobacco tax bill when our session resumes in January. So, I was really dismayed by the bicam passage of the tobacco tax measure without first waiting for the Senate’s approved version,” Sen. Pacquiao said.
The senator from Mindanao stressed that the tobacco tax bill is not just a mere revenue measure.
“Above all, it involves public health issue. We can compromise government revenue but not our people’s health. We can generate revenue from other sources without compromising public health. Cigarette is just like shabu. It’s addictive, it’s a poison,” Sen. Pacquiao stressed.
As leaders, Sen. Pacquiao said, lawmakers should take the cudgel in protecting public health.
The boxer-lawmaker said “Human body is sacred. We should not destroy or desecrate it.”
He quoted 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, which says “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
“Why protect the interest and greed of the tobacco companies at the expense of the youth and the Filipino people? Pacquiao asked.
According to Sen. Pacquiao, the lawmakers virtually made cigarettes more affordable like candies by passing the low tobacco tax bill.
Despite the bicam approval of the low tobacco tax measure, Sen. Pacquiao is not giving up.
He vowed to exert efforts to convince President Duterte to veto the tobacco tax provision of TRAIN.
He revealed that no less than President Duterte, himself, being a staunch anti-smoking advocate, assured him of support for his Senate version of the tobacco tax law.
“I will continue to fight for a higher tobacco tax and nothing can stop us from protecting our people especially children. We will never back down because this is about saving the lives of thousands of Filipinos,” he said.
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