Marcos, Escudero, Honasan, 2 Senate bets 'anti-health'
MANILA, Philippines – Health advocacy groups on Thursday, May 5, declared as "anti-health" vice presidential bets Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, Francis "Chiz" Escudero, and Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan II, as well as reelectionist Senators Ralph Recto and Vicente "Tito" Sotto III.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), Action for Economic Reforms, and Youth for Sin Tax Movement slammed the 5 candidates "because they rejected the sin tax law in 2012."
In a statement on Thursday – 4 days before the May 9 polls – the groups that lobbied for the passage of the sin tax law said these candidates "continuously [dismiss] the benefits of the law both in terms of reducing smoking and increasing the funds for Universal Health Care."
In 2012, all 5 voted against ratifying the bicameral conference committee report on what was then the contentious sin tax bill.
During the vice presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections in April, both Marcos and Escudero were asked by Liberal Party bet Leni Robredo why they voted against the law. (READ: UST vice presidential debate: The Rappler coverage)
Escudero said that in his entire stint as a lawmaker, he has never approved any measure that seeks to increase taxes in the country.
"Bakit kung ano pa ang madalas ginagamit at nagagamit ng mahirap? Kung 'yan panukala niyo, boboto marahil ako pabor doon, kung mayayaman ang bubuwisan ninyo," he said, lamenting that increased taxes should instead be imposed on rich people’s expensive cars, airplanes, ships, and yachts.
(Why increase the taxes for products commonly used by the poor? I may vote in favor of a proposal that will increase the taxes of the rich.)
Marcos agreed with Escudero: "Maliwanag na maliwanag na ang binubuwisan doon sa sin tax ay ang 6 na milyon na umaasa sa industriyang iyan, at sa pagpataas ng sin tax ay mababawasan ang ating makikita na produksyon na wala namang kapalit para doon sa umaasa sa mga industriyang iyan sa hanapbuhay."
(It's clear that the sin tax affects 6 million people who rely on that industry, and increasing the sin taxes further will affect the livelihood of those who rely on that industry.)
He said he will not allow these taxes to increase further, especially with the government’s underspending.
Remember 'Recto Morris' bill?
But on Thursday, Madeiline Aloria from the Youth for Sin Tax Movement said Escudero "appears to have a misplaced concern for the poor."
"Instead of protecting the vulnerable sector from getting sick, he’d rather keep cigarettes and alcohol accessible to them. During the campaign, he vowed to expand the coverage of PhilHealth for the poor, but where will he get the money to finance this if he does not agree with sin tax and even promised to lower corporate and income taxes?"
FCAP Executive Director Maricar Limpin said Marcos dismissed the fact that part of the revenues from the sin tax will help programs that will promote alternatives for tobacco farmers and workers in tobacco-producing provinces.
The groups also reminded the public about the "Recto Morris" bill – the "watered-down" sin tax bill approved in October 2012 by the Senate ways and means committee chaired by Recto. AER coordinator Filomeno Sta Ana III then called the bill the "hybrid version of what Recto and Philip Morris want."
"We hope the people will remember them as the legislators who did not want to reform the taxes in cigarettes and alcohol. We hope the people will remember that had they succeeded, we would not have enough funds to cover the health expenses of the poor through PhilHealth and the Department of Health," AER senior economist Jo-ann Latuja Diosana said in Thursday's statement.
"May we all remember that if they were successful, we would not have saved the young and the poor from their eventual death due to cigarette addiction."
Beyond the presidential elections, 2016 is also a crucial year for health advocates. The sin tax law mandates a congressional oversight committee to review the impact of the tax rates on the 3rd quarter of 2016.
Diosana called on the public to be vigilant ahead of the review.
"It will definitely not help if we elect top leaders who chose to favor the vested interests of a few over protecting public interest," she added.
Thanks to the sin tax law, the budget of the health department has significantly increased starting 2014.
The health groups on Thursday also noted that vice presidential bet Alan Peter Cayetano and senatorial bet Teofisto "TG" Guingona III did not attend the 2012 Senate session wherein the sin tax law was ratified by a close 10-9 vote.
Sotto was also dubbed by the Purple Ribbon for RH Movement – the largest network of RH and women's rights advocates – as "unworthy of the people’s vote." On Thursday, he said in a television interview that he is "no longer against" the reproductive health law. – Rappler.com
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