MANILA, Philippines – He looked like a cigarette endorser but Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile wanted to prove a point. He summed up his argument against the sin tax bill by raising a pack of cigarettes and exclaiming, “Yunyan!”
Enrile showed off a pack of smuggled cigarettes to argue against what he said was an ill effect of passing the sin tax bill: the proliferation of smuggled cigarettes.
During the Kapihan sa Senado press forum on Thursday, November 29, Enrile showed reporters a pack of cigarettes with the label “Yunyan,” saying this was smuggled from China.
He said someone gave him the pack that morning. He opened the press conference with an announcement.
“The first news I’ll tell you is I’m going to start smoking again. My brand is Yunyan. P20 in Divisoria. Is there a company that manufactures cigarettes with Chinese characters? And the brand is Yunyan! It smells good.”
Enrile then drove home his point by saying that even before the sin tax bill becomes law, smuggling is already rampant.
“Ano pa kaya ‘pag tinaas mo nang katakot-takot ang presyo sa Pilipinas sa ilalim ng mataas na buwis. ‘Yun ang katanungan ko kaya Sec Purisima, Commissioner Kim Henares. Ano ba? Bakit merong Yunyan sa Pilipinas? Bakit ‘di niyo hinuhuli ito eh nakakalat sa Divisoria?”
(What more if we raise to high levels the price of cigarettes in the Philippines? That is my question to Sec Purisima, Commissioner Kim Henares. What’s the matter? Why do we have Yunyan in the Philippines? Why don’t you confiscate this?)
Enrile was referring to Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Henares, the commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
To prove his point, the 88-year-old Enrile said he is willing to try smoking the pack of cigarettes even after he quit smoking 30 years ago. He said he started smoking at age 9.
The Senate President has been arguing against high sin taxes on tobacco, saying this will displace farmers in Northern Luzon. Enrile is from Cagayan.
Smuggling has been a common argument raised by sin tax critics. Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr of Ilocos Norte has repeatedly cited this during the debates.
Yet advocates like the bill’s sponsor Sen Franklin Drilon have said that smuggling is a law enforcement issue and must not be used as an argument against the bill.
Advocates also said the bill allocates P6 billion to help local tobacco farmers transition to other crops.
Still, Enrile was adamant.
“The argument of [Health] Sec [Enrique] Ona that many will stop smoking, that won’t come true beause there is a clandestine supply that they don’t know of or they know of but refuse to see.”
‘Strong alcohol lobby in bicam’
Enrile also defended the composition of the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference committee that will reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill.
The Senate version aims to raise an additional P40 billion in revenues from tobacco and alcoholic products while the House targets only P31 billion.
Senators Ralph Recto and Marcos are part of the panel even if 35 medical groups called on them to inhibit.
Enrile said the pro-sin tax group is also represented. Also included in the panel are Drilon and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Sergio Osmeña III, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano. The bicam proceedings will start next week.
“Ang dalawang Cayetano ang nasa minority. Si Pia na kalaban ng naninigarilyo. Gusto niya patayin ang sigarilyo eh,” Enrile said. (The two Cayetanos are in the minority. Pia is the enemy of smokers. She wants to kill the tobacco industry.)
Enrile said he will not meddle with the bicameral proceedings. He, however, said that Marcos had to be included because “like me, we have to protect the tobacco farmers of our region.”
He said Recto was chosen to ensure that the final sin tax bill will be “reasonable.”
Enrile also revealed that he received reports of a strong lobby for alcohol in the bicam.
“I’m not talking of Malacañang but some functionaries in government, they are toying with the idea of increasing the tax burden of tobacco, higher than the burden imposed by the version of the House … to lighten the tax on alcohol.”
‘Northern Luzon bloc vote’
Enrile said lawmakers cannot allow the spread of smuggled cigarettes and the imposition of high sin taxes at the expense of Filipino tobacco farmers.
He warned that residents of Northern Luzon will campaign against lawmakers who support high taxes on tobacco.
“Alam ng mga taga-Norte kung anong gagawin nila sa darating na eleksyon. Hindi ako nanakot, ‘yun ang ugali namin. Dahil masasaktan kami roon eh. Masasaktan ang aming mga kababayan.” (People from the North know what we will do in the elections. I am not threatening them but that is our attitude. We will be disadvantaged.)
Asked if Northern Luzon has a bloc vote, Enrile said, “Makikita niyo kami kung paano kami gagalaw.” (You will see how we will move.) – Rappler.com