MANILA, Philippines – Despite calls for their inhibition, Senators Ralph Recto and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr will sit on the bicameral conference committee on the sin tax reform bill.
After a meeting among senators, Sen Franklin Drilon announced that Recto and Marcos will join the 7-member contingent from the Senate.
Also included are Drilon as the sponsor of the bill and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Sergio Osmeña III, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano.
Sin tax advocates count Drilon and Pia Cayetano as their champions in the Senate.
Before the announcement was made, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III told reporters 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 to be true to the consensus of the Senate, he said the body chose 7 members for the bicam group.
The Senate group will join bicam members from the House of Representatives to consolidate the final version of the bill. The Senate version aims to raise an additional P40 billion in revenues from tobacco and alcoholic products while the House targets P31 billion.
Before the announcement, 35 medical organizations signed a manifesto calling on Recto and Marcos to inhibit, accusing them of siding with the tobacco industry. Health Secretary Enrique Ona witnessed the signing of the manifesto.
The manifesto urged Recto and Marcos to inhibit, citing newspaper reports about Recto’s “secret meeting” with tobacco companies and the presence of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC) lawyers during Marcos’ interpellation of the measure.
“We strongly believe that by championing the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in the passage of the sin tax, the two senators have compromised the welfare of the Filipino people,” the manifesto read.
‘Nothing to fear’
Before the bicam composition was made final, Recto already told health advocates they have nothing to fear.
“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.
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. Health advocates said it closely resembled the version proposed by Philip Morris, labeling it as the “Recto Morris bill.”
Recto also said he supports the health advocates’ call to open the bicam deliberations to the public. He said though 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.” – Rappler.com