Recto Morris, Purisima San Miguel

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima came to the Senate bearing an olive branch. He apologized to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Ralph Recto. It was an apology on behalf of several members of the Cabinet who criticized, some of them using stinging words, the Recto committee report on the sin tax.

That the Recto report resembles the position of Philip Morris has led civil society and media to label it the “Morris Recto” report. The label has stuck, because it is true.

Senators Ponce Enrile and Recto accepted the apology. ABS CBN News posted Recto’s statement online (17 October 2012): “The apology is there. Well accepted. We are all professionals. Hindi naman kailangang magsamaan ng loob.” No hard feelings then.

But on the heels of his acceptance of the Finance Secretary’s apology, Recto lashed out at the administration’s sin tax bill. Senator Recto labeled it the “Purisima-San Miguel” version. Recto contends that Secretary Purisima and the Lower House accommodated San Miguel’s beer interests, that the amended Abaya bill that the Lower House approved was “harsh” on tobacco but “soft” on beer.”

Recto is gaya-gaya by coining “Purisima-San Miguel.” He thinks “Purisima-San Miguel” is the foil to Recto Morris.

He is wrong. “Purisima-San Miguel” is not claro at all.

From a public relations or propaganda perspective, Recto’s tag is a dud. A basic rule for good writing or copywriting is to avoid polysyllables. “Recto Morris” packs a wallop, but “Purisima-San Miguel” does not have punch.

More importantly, any tag becomes effective and catchy if it is real or close to the truth: Marcos Hitler. Villarroyo. Recto Morris.

But the Purisima-San Miguel tag does not mirror the truth. The fact is Secretary Purisima, Secretary Enrique Ona, Commissioner Kim Henares, and other government champions have consistently batted for the version that will bring about optimal revenues and dramatic health outcomes.

That the Lower House version of the sin tax bill got watered down was not because of Purisima. The passage of the sin tax bill necessitated the support of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, which however represented San Miguel’s interests. So the result—lower tax rates for beer in the amended Abaya bill—merely reflected the actual balance of forces in the Lower House.

But this could still be remedied in the Senate. And Purisima, Ona, Henares, et al have stated time and again during the hearing of the Ways and Means committee that they prefer the provisions found in the original Abaya bill, expressed in the Senate through Miriam Santiago’s bill. That means they all want to restore the higher tax rates for alcohol.

Yet what did Senator Recto as chair of the Ways and Means committee do? He basically copied the watered-down version for alcohol that the Lower House passed. Worse, he drastically dropped the tax rates for tobacco products and retained the ugly features of the prevailing tax structure. In short, it is Recto who is soft on alcohol, much softer on tobacco and harsh on reforms.

It is sad to see Senator Recto self-destructing. He is unrepentant, as he continues to defend the Recto Morris bill.

Now, he is becoming an obstructionist. He wants Senator Franklin Drilon to write a new committee report, the effect of which is to delay the process. Drilon prefers the committee report crafted by Recto to be the reference for the interpellation and amendments. But Recto asked: “Why should they want to plagiarize my report?”

And all the while, Senator Recto has packaged the report to be the committee report. But his statement about plagiarizing his report confirms that the report is really his own—a report that is soft on alcohol, much softer on tobacco, and harsh on reforms.

Our unsolicited piece of advice to Senator Recto: You have found an honorable exit by resigning. Lie low. Stop dishing out statements that will only harden your image as Recto Morris, which the electorate will not forget in 2016.

And don’t be belligerent to those who have given the olive branch to you. Secretary Purisima might get exasperated; instead he might request the charming Commissioner Henares to negotiate with you. Henares, a sharpshooter, might do a Yasser Arafat.

When Arafat spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in 1974, he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

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