Duque asks Duterte to certify tobacco tax hike bill as urgent

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III asked President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent a Senate bill seeking to raise tobacco taxes in order to fund the universal health care (UHC) bill.

Duque confirmed this in a text message to Rappler on Sunday, October 14.

The health chief submitted a letter, addressed to Duterte and dated October 11, pushing for Senate Bill (SB) No. 1605.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Secretary Adelino Sitoy were copied in the letter.

Duque said on Sunday that Duterte has yet to respond.

The President, in his 3rd State of the Nation Address last July, had urged Congress to pass the UHC bill. He certified it as urgent during a Cabinet meeting. (READ: Duterte urges 'speedy passage' of universal health care bill)

Why Duque wants tobacco tax hike bill certified as urgent: Immediate passage of the bill, Duque said, would fund the UHC bill as well as lower smoking prevalence in the country from 21.6% of the population down to a target of 15.7%.

"This rate…is in line with our non-communicable diseases targets for 2025. The increased rate will also ensure funding for universal health care," he said. (READ: Lifestyle diseases 'rapidly rising' in Western Pacific region – WHO)

Should the bill be passed, excise tax on cigarettes would be increased to P90 per pack from the current P32.50. This would result in revenues of about P45 billion. (READ: Cigarette prices to increase more with passage of universal health care bill)

The Senate last Wednesday, October 10, approved the UHC bill, which seeks to give all Filipinos access to health care coverage and services. The passage of the bill came over a year after the House of Representatives passed a counterpart measure in September 2017.

The measure is still far from becoming law, though, as a bicameral conference committee would need to reconcile the different provisions in the two versions of the bill. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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