The tobacco industry waged a scorched earth campaign against the House version of the sin tax not because they were out to protect their humongous profits but because they are for the little guy, the poor schmuck who will bear the burden of sin taxes. They found an ally in Sen. Ralph Recto, champion of the poor.
Echoing the concern of the tobacco industry Recto said, “…contrary to the myth, the higher tax we are mulling will not be levied on a couple of taipans, or a foreign tobacco colossus, or a beer giant. The ones who will ultimately bear the additional tax burden are ordinary folks, like the worker who likes to cap his day with a cocktail of rum and coke or the call center employee who grabs a bottle of ice cold beer before he hits the road. In short, we are not taxing companies here but people. In the end, it is not big tobacco or the giant brewery who will pay, but small people.” Kawawa naman ang mga mahirap, inaapi lagi Heartfuckingwarming concern, isn’t it?
Sen. Ralph Recto, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and husband of Vilma Santos the Star for All Seasons, saw through the anti-poor arguments of health talibans. He exposed the government’s evil plan to finance the development of the country on the backs of the poor – “Lalo na sa isang batas na papataw ng buwis hindi sa mga dambuhalang kumpanya pero sa ordinaryong mamamayan” – and he would have none of it. So he threw out the anti-poor House version of the sin tax bill and introduced a bill that might as well have been written by the pro-poor tobacco industry. By so doing he demonstrated that a tobacco conglomerate and a senator elected by his wife’s fans can band together to keep cancer within easy reach of the less fortunate.
Recto took the late great President Ramon Magsaysay’s dictum — “Those who have less in life should have more in the law” — and turned it into “Those who have less in life should have more than one puff.” What else can you expect from a man who values equality?
Moreover, Recto is a nationalist like his illustrious grandfather Claro M. Recto. He is against higher taxes on tobacco because, as he said in his sponsorship speech, “under a regime of super-high sin taxes, the local players will be taxed to extinction, or elbowed out of the market by foreign-made tobacco and alcohol products.” There is no way that Don Claro’s grandson is going to allow British American Tobacco to elbow out local players like Philip Morris/Fortune Tobacco. Nationalism runs in his blood.
The partnership between Recto and the tobacco industry proves that together, businessmen and politicians can lift the poor from the embarrassment of not being able to afford lung cancer. Thanks to Recto and the tobacco industry, the yaya and her señorito, the señora and her D.I., can now cough together and exchange chemotherapy stories as equals. Recto’s sin tax bridges the gap between the rich and the poor, the master and his servant. It brings them together through shared experiences. Why should the rich have a monopoly on tobacco-related diseases?
No one has argued the tobacco industry’s case on behalf of the poor better than Sen. Ralph Recto. Recto should be working as a highly paid advocate for Philip Morris/Fortune Tobacco and not as a mere Senator of the Republic of the Philippines. He should get his salary from them and not from taxpayers because he deserves better pay and a more respectable means of livelihood. Let’s show the good senator how much we appreciate him by helping him find a better life for himself and his family.
Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).