Press Release – Action for Economic Reforms – 10 October 2012

“This is not a committee report. A committee report should reflect what happened in the committee. It should reflect the deliberations, inputs and ideas presented in the committee. This report did not. We are demanding for his resignation.”

These were strong words from Filomeno Sta. Ana III, coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms, at a press conference today. Joining him were other notable figures from civil society who slammed Senator Ralph Recto’s committee report on sin tax.

Dubbing it the “Recto Morris” report, civil society called for Recto’s resignation as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, saying that he favored the interests of the tobacco industry rather than the health of millions.

“Civil society is angry and rejects this committee report,” declared Sta. Ana. “This report shows that he is defying the administration, he is defying the Department of Health, he is defying the Department of Finance, and he is defying President Aquino – who has considered this a priority bill.”

Aside from having three tiers of P6, P10 and P14 for the low, medium and high-priced categories, the net retail price cut-offs are adjusted to inflation. Instead of removing the price classification freeze (which pegs cigarette products at the 1996 rates), more brands will fall under the low-priced category. Cigarettes will remain accessible or worse, become cheaper over time as brands move to lower tax categories.

Furthermore, absurdly low tax rates will render cigarettes to remain as one of the cheapest in the world. The report’s features on earmarking is not even aligned with the administration’s Universal Health Care (UHC) program nor will it adhere to the WTO ruling with regards to distilled spirits.

“Senator Recto is always saying ‘let’s find the sweet spot.’ Look at that bill. Is that the sweet spot?” argued Sta. Ana. “This contradicts what Recto has been saying all along, so how can this be a committee report?”

Dr. Antonio Dans of the UP College of Medicine also lamented the report’s blatant disregard for health.

Dr. Dans, who presented twice during the Senate Ways and Means Committee, decried, “[If we pass this version] we have given up on 55,000 lives. Ganoon na ba ka-mura ang buhay ngayon na we’re willing to forget 55,000 lives just to protect an industry that doesn’t deserve protection from our legislators?”

“The fact that it was watered down – not even watered down, but rather drowned – we’ve settled for nothing,” he said. “To me, it’s a heartbreak. Baka kaya ng politician ito pero hindi kaya ng karamihan ng Pilipino. We should not tolerate such disregard for the poor.”

For his part, Health Secretary Enrique Ona stated, “To say the least, I’m very very disappointed with the report.” He asserted that the successful implementation of the government’s UHC program hinges on the real sin tax bill’s passing.