50 centavos for 51,000 lives

Press Release – Action for Economic Reforms – 22 October 2012

How much is one life worth? How about 51,000 lives?

These were questions raised by civil society and health advocates in a press conference today in Quezon City.

In a presentation, Dr. Antonio Dans of the UP College of Medicine compared the impact of Senator Ralph Recto’s version with Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s version of the sin tax bill.

If passed, Recto’s bill would have a price of P1.26 per cigarette stick while Santiago’s bill would peg it at P1.78 – a difference of only 50 centavos. “Iyan ang pinagtatalunan natin – singkwenta sentimos kada isang cigarette stick,” stated Dans.

Dans projected that Santiago’s bill would avert 75,000 deaths a year while Recto’s would only avert 24,000 – a discrepancy of 51,000 lives that would have been saved.

Questioned Dans, “Kapakanan ba talaga ng tao ang nasa isip ng Recto bill? With this watering down, you are giving up 51,000 lives. Wala bang halaga ang buhay ng tao sa mga desisiyon natin sa pagpapatupad ng sin tax?”

“They never talk about it. They avoid it and yet this is the crucial issue when we talk about sin tax,” he lamented. “This is a chance to save thousands of Filipinos by increasing prices by only 50 centavos. Para sa maraming ordinaryong Filipino, hindi yan mahirap na desisyon. It’s a no brainer.”

Economist and UP School of Economics professor Solita Monsod blasted Recto for ignoring the credible data presented to him during the committee hearings saying, “Sinabi na namin lahat na iyan sa hearing. With regards to differences in revenue collection, it was transparent. And yet Senator Recto seemed to totally ignore the information that was given and instead, adapted the arguments of the tobacco industry.”

Monsod also spoke out on statements that suggested the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco instead of taxation. She cited the United States prohibition on alcohol and explained, “There was a prohibition law of the US that prohibited the sale of liquor and that’s where the crime started. That cannot possibly be an alternative. This is when all the smuggling that you’re all talking about will come out.”

Monsod reiterated the importance of Santiago’s version of the sin tax bill and said, “Let us adhere to the truth. Let’s not put a spin on it. We’re talking about lives here. We’re not just improving health but absolutely improving the choices of the consumers with respect to the good that they are buying. How ever you cut the cake, the arguments all call for the passage of the sin tax in its original version which is the Miriam Santiago version.”

When asked about civil society’s position on the P40 billion projected incremental revenue, Jo-Ann Latuja, senior economist of Action for Economic Reforms, answered, “It’s too early to comment on the P40 billion [incremental revenue] because we haven’t seen the structure.”

“What is more important to us is the structure. Are we going to a unitary system by 2015 or not? Are we going to index it to a rate higher than inflation? Those are the main features,” she explained.

Latuja clarified that civil society is pushing for a whole set of reforms and not simply the revenues. “We want a unitary system or one tax for all, which is the most effective way to decrease consumption. Indexation to inflation is important so products do not get cheaper over time as income increases. We don’t know how the P40 billion will shift in the coming years. What we are really pushing for – more than revenues – is the structure.”

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