AMID FIERCE disputes over the Abaya sin tax bill, anti-reformists have espoused agenda changes that will delay, and even kill, the passage of the administration’s excise tax restructuring policy.
In the latest episode of the sin tax hearings on February 28, pro-tobacco lawmakers have defied the administration’s timetable on reforms by seeking to confine discussions of the House Ways and Means group to a past report of the National Internal Revenue subcommittee.
“This draconian measure will bring untold difficulties to our farmers, our manufacturers, and our working sector,” declared Representative Rufus Rodriguez on the Abaya proposal soon after the hearing commenced, “We should now go to Subcommittee Report No. 6 so we’ll be able to have a win-win situation.”
Earlier in January, chairperson Rep. Isidro Ungab had opted not to review the document at the committee level. His resolution was made in view of the narrow time period for passing the revenue and health measure before the onset of campaign fever for the 2013 elections.
Other representatives such as Minority Leader Danilo Suarez backed Rodriguez’s motion. “The proper procedure is to discuss the subcommittee report on a line-by-line basis. What should be the number one priority in our agenda is the subcommittee report,” he said.
The same subcommittee had approved last January 30 a diluted version of the sin tax bill crafted by Rep. Eric Singson to sabotage the Aquino government’s tax modifications. Its proceedings were conducted without consultation and due notification of the authors of other tax proposals.
If the document will be tackled “line-by-line” as recommended by Rep. Suarez, advocates fear it could delay the legislation of the administration sin taxes well into the third regular session of the 15th Congress— long enough to axe the Abaya bill.
“We are responsible not only to a sector, but also to a whole country,” responded Leonor Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch-Philippines, to those who oppose the administration’s reforms. “We don’t have to make a choice between people who risk their health, and keeping alive a sector.”
The nation has been broken socially, physically and financially by the manifold hazards posed by cigarette smoking and alcohol addiction, according to Briones. “We cannot say that we’ll go on with the status quo. We have to fix this,” she urged all the attending congresspersons.
As reformers have made undeniably clear in past hearings, the Abaya sin tax restructuring will be vital in averting the nation’s epidemic rise in non-communicable diseases amongst the young and the poor, while safeguarding the country’s fiscal standing in a time of vast development spending.
Should the pro-tobacco solons succeed through their delaying tactics in butchering the passage of the Abaya bill, the advocates hold no doubts over whom to hold accountable for future health and fiscal crises that may eventually besiege the Philippines.