Recto to sin tax advocates: Why fear me?

Sen Ralph Recto says health groups have nothing to fear if he is included in the sin tax bicam

'AMENDMENTS FOR HEALTH.' Sen Recto says he does not understand why health groups do not want him in the bicam when he introduced amendments for the health sector. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – Why are they afraid? 

Sen Ralph Recto said advocates of the sin tax reform bill have nothing to fear if he will be included as a member of the bicameral conference committee that will hammer out the final version of the measure.

Recto was responding to the call of Health Secretary Enrique Ona and 35 medical associations for him and Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr to inhibit from the bicam proceedings.

The groups signed the manifesto for the inhibition of the two senators on Wednesday, November 28.

“Why are they afraid? What is most important to me is the earmarking [of revenues] for health,” Recto told reporters as he referred to the amendments he introduced.

Recto said he is not applying to be a member of the bicameral conference committee.

Asked if he will agree to join the group if chosen, Recto said, “I will always do my job as the Senate requests me to.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said they recommend the inclusion of Recto in the group.

“There are interests about tobacco,” Enrile said. “I would suggest that Sen Marcos be included. In the case of Sen Recto, since his version of the bill was set aside, he has a right also to be included so he can see to it that what we have agreed upon is really going to push through.”

Enrile said that to be true to the consensus of the Senate, he said the body can even agree to choose 7 members for the bicam group.

Recto responded, “I agree with that statement. I think the amendments of the Senate should stay.”

The Senate passed its version of the sin tax bill on November 20, raising an additional P40 billion in revenues from tobacco and alcoholic products.

During the period of amendments, Recto proposed that P23 billion of the additional revenues be released directly to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth).

Prior to this, he resigned as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee due to criticism that his bill watered down the measure. The Recto version only raised P15 billion, far from the government’s target of P60 billion.

‘Yes to open bicam’

Recto said he supports the health advocates’ call to open the bicam deliberations to the public, saying he has opened his own bicam sessions in the past. 

He said though that this will be the decision of the committee.

“I support that it to be open to the public of course so everyone will know. We debated on it on the floor openly. You’ve heard all my positions on the merits of the bill.”

Recto added, “I voted in favor of the sin tax. I may disagree on the revenues, I think the target is too big, they can’t collect that. We will know that after a year, by 2014 , we will know if what was collected is correct.”

Enrile said he is also amenable to an open bicam.

“As much as possible, we maintain the 60-40 ratio [in bicam]. ‘Wag naman masyadong pahirapan ang anumang product. (Let’s not give any product a hard time.) It has to be equitable. Taxation must be equitable.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen Franklin Drilon, however, said the House of Representatives will also have to weigh in on the decision to open the bicam proceedings to the public.

‘Conflict of interest’

The health advocates called for Recto’s inhibition, citing conflict of interest because of reports that he secretly met with tobacco groups.

Recto has admitted to meeting tobacco companies but said he also met with the Finance Department to get their inputs on the bill.

Sin tax advocates urged Marcos to inhibit, saying lawyers of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC) lawyers were present during his interpellation of the measure.

Marcos was absent from the session on Wednesday. – Rappler.com