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Senate eyes passage of universal health care bill by October

Sofia Tomacruz

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Senate eyes passage of universal health care bill by October
But committee chair Senator JV Ejercito says the current squabble over Malacañang's decision to revoke Senator Antonio Trillanes' amnesty is 'affecting' the passage of bills

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate is eyeing to pass by next month the Universal Health Care (UHC) bill seeking to ensure all Filipinos access to adequate health services. 

Senator JV Ejerctio, chairman of the committee on health and demography, said the bill is currently in the interpellation phase but that the Senate was “cooperative and supportive” over the landmark bill. The House of Representatives earlier passed its version of the UHC bill in September 2017.

“Since it has been certified as urgent and mentioned by the president during the SONA as one the measures that he would want passed, we are targeting that hopefully before October, we will be able to pass the universal health care bill,” Ejercito said during a press briefing on Thursday, September 5.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier urged Congress to pass the UHC bill during his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA). He certified as urgent the health care law during a Cabinet meeting last July. (READ: Duterte urges ‘speedy passage’ of universal health care bill)

Why October? Ejercito said he was gunning for the passage of bill by October before the official filing of certificates of candidacy for the mid-term elections in 2019. “Before, as they say, all hell breaks loose because it will be political season,” he said.

To prepare for the funding of health services and ensure 100% of the Filipino population would be covered under the UHC bill, lawmakers also seek to increase tobacco taxes to about P60 to P90 per pack from the current P32.50.

Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously said the increase sin taxes would be a major source of funding for the universal health care law. (READ: Cigarette prices to increase more with passage of universal health care bill)

Both Ejercito and Senator Manny Pacquiao have proposed to raise tobacco taxes to P90 and P60 per pack, respectively. Should the tax hike be approved, Ejercito said this would result in revenues of about P30 to P45 billion.

For the DOH, higher prices for cigarettes would be a “win-win” with a two-fold purpose of funding the UHC bill and lowering smoking prevalence in the country from 23.8% in 2015 down to a target of 15.7%.

Will this be possible? Passing the UHC bill in the Senate, though, will be easier said than done. Ejercito admitted this much, as he said the current squabble over Malacañang’s decision to revoke Senator Antonio Trillanes amnesty was “affecting” the Senate’s legislative agenda.

“Sad to say that of course what is happening now, the current squabble right now regarding Senator Trillanes, definitely its also affecting. Any distraction – especially now that we only have just a few, 12 or less than 12 session days left – I’m quite pressured,” he told Rappler on the sidelines of the briefing.

Should the Senate fail to pass the bill by October, another push will be on the table in February 2019.

“But probably by that time, everybody will be focused on the political side already. That’s campaign period…. Sayang naman kung hindi umabot (It will go to waste if it does not get passed),” Ejercito said. –


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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.