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Bongbong Marcos on 'gotcha' picture: Philip Morris offered data

MANILA, Philippines - In the age of livestreamed Senate sessions, our lawmakers' every move is put on the spotlight.

When sin tax bill advocates spotted Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp lawyer Mario Zinampan whispering to Sen Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr during a recent session on the sin tax bill, they accused the senator of inappropriately pushing for the interests of tobacco companies.

Zinampan works for the cigarette company's corporate affairs department, according to Maricar Limpin of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), a group lobbying for the passage of the sin tax measure. She showed the video in a press conference on Monday, November 26.

"He (Marcos) was listening. He was obviously listening," Limpin said.

Asked about this, Marcos told Rappler that Philip Morris has been actively lobbying and offering him data, but the senator maintained the he used independent data when he studied the bill. The senator introduced various amendments to the measure before the Senate finally approved it.

"Kinukulit nga ako during my interpellation. They kept trying to volunteer data and information I already had," Marcos told Rappler.

It should not be suprising that Philip Morris would actively lobby against the tax bill, Marcos added. The senator is a natural ally of the cigarette companies. Marcos comes from the tobacco-growing province of Ilocos Norte and has expressed concerns on how the measure would kill the tobacco industry and affect the local economy.

"Not surprisingly, they kept coming to see me. But luckily I had some stock knowledge from my time as a congressman and governor from Ilocos. Then I relied on government agencies for further data. All the cigarette manufacturers were actively lobbying. Again, unsurprisingly," Marcos told Rappler.

Limpin said there's a big difference between people like her lobbying for the passage of the measure and others such as Zinampan lobbying against it. She cited the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that says "tobacco policies should be protected from vested interests." The Philipine Senate ratified the framework in 2005.

The sin tax measure seeks to increase the prices of cigarettes and alcohol. Advocates hope that the measure will discourage tobacco addiction  and, as a result, minimize the diseases and deaths related to it.

Recognizing that this would have negative consequences on the local tobacco industry, the measure allocates funds to help tobacco farmers find alternative livelihood.

Both the Senate and the House have already approved their own version of the bill. The coming days will be spent reconciling both at the crucial bicameral conference committee hearings.

Marcos and fellow lawmakers from the tobacco-growing provinces have been protective of the tobacco industry.

“There’s a saying, ‘Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.’ The government already collects a lot of money from the tobacco, alcohol industry. If they drastically change the system, this will destroy their source of revenues,” Marcos was earlier quoted saying. - Rappler.com