By Ellen Tordesillas
The fact that House Bill 5727 has reached this far at the House Ways and Means Committee bodes well for the legislation that aims to raise sin taxes making it more expensive for Filipinos to ruin their health.
The Ways and means committee, chaired by Davao City (3rd district) Rep. Isidro T. Ungab , tackles a legislations and related matters concerning fiscal, monetary and financial affairs of the national government including tariff, taxation, revenues, borrowing, credit and bonded indebtedness. All revenue- related bills emanate from the House of Representatives.
Lobbying in that committee by alcohol and tobacco manufacturers is known to be intense. That's why many congressmen want to be in that committee. It's a lucrative committee. That's also why bills like HB5727, an Act restructuring the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products authored by Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio "Jun" Abaya, is difficult to pass. In Tagalog, we say, kabangga mo ang pader.
We hope and pray there would be at least 50 of the 75-member Ways and Means Committee who would think of the lives that would be saved by the passage of this bill.
Once the bill passes the Ways and Means Committee, it goes to the plenary for further deliberations, interpellations by the 286 House members. This is another arduous, even contentious process, that would depend a lot on the House leadership, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
If it hurdles the House process, which is not unlike a camel passing through the needle, the bill goes to the Senate where it will be referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means Committee chaired by Ralph Recto. More discussions and deliberations. Needless to say more lobbying by vested interest groups.
After all the discussions and deliberations, it would go to the bicameral committee where all the amendments, if there are, would be harmonized. Then it goes to the House and Senate for ratification before it is sent to Malacañang for the President's signature.
This would be a test of the President's leadership because it is talked about that although Abaya is a top official of LP, members are not united behind HB5727.
Anti-tobacco advocates would not be so hard on the President not giving up his smoking habit if he could use the weight of the presidency to push this bill that would redound to the interests of millions of poor Filipinos .
A manifesto for HB5727 says "On the first year of implementation, the government is expected to raise additional revenues worth P60 billion, of which, P30 billion is from cigarettes, P11 from distilled spirits and P19 billion is from beer." The P60 billion could be used to build more classrooms, buy more books, pay more teachers for schoolchildren in the provinces. It could also be used to improve health facilities and hire more health care personnel to serve in rural areas.
"Moving as One", a group composed of organizations fighting cancer, issued a call to support HB5727.
Moving as One said:" In the Philippines, cancer only ranks third to infectious diseases and heart diseases as a leading cause of death.
"Tobacco's linkage to lung cancer is one of the most widely known harmful effects on human health of smoking. There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. "
"Smoking increases risks of cancer at many sites in the body other than the lungs, particularly the head and neck, urinary bladder and kidneys, uterine cervix, breast, pancreas, and colon.
"Increasing tobacco prices by raising taxes is the most effective intervention to reduce tobacco use and encourage smokers to quit. When tobacco prices increase by 10%, it leads to 4% decrease in consumption in high-income countries and by up to 8% in low- and middle-income countries.
"The higher excise taxes will not only discourage the dangerous habits of smoking and drinking but it will potentially raise government revenues, which can then be used for tobacco control and other health programs like the Universal Health Care Program."