Press Release— Action for Economic Reforms— 4 June 2012

SEVEN SURE-FIRE “wins” await Filipinos if excise taxes for tobacco and alcohol products are firmly restructured in 2012. These are the new fighting words that a broad multi-sectoral coalition— including former top government officials and medical, business, public health, youth, social development, religious, and economic reform advocates— have rallied behind for HB 5727.

As plenary debates on the amended Abaya sin tax bill come to a head in the Lower House, sixteen organizations and five health and finance ex-secretaries released a new manifesto of support entitled “200 Votes and Seven Wins,” on the Philippines’ leading print broadsheets.

The approval of the Abaya bill, the coalition touted, would spell clear advances for the poor, the youth, health, the economy, tobacco farmers, politicians, and the future of the Filipino public. It would shield the youth and the poor from the country’s leading cause of mortality, secure an estimated P33-B in additional revenues which would increase the resources of local governments and congressional districts, furnish alternative livelihoods for farmers, and fund the government’s universal health care program.

Ultimately, attested the manifesto, the signing of the Abaya sin tax bill reforms into law would rein in the Philippines’ silent epidemic of smoking- and alcohol-related diseases and deaths, improve the lives of the country’s workforce, enhance the quality of governance and enable long-term inclusive growth.

“We have before us the first window of opportunity in over fifteen years to really raise taxes on cigarettes,” said one-time DOH chief Dr. Esperanza Cabral. “I urge our legislators to do all in their power to ensure the safe passage of HB 5727 for the health and development of Filipinos everywhere.”

“As a former secretary of health, I have seen so many young and poor people waste their health and their resources on tobacco,” she added. “We know all the dangers this brings to them, their families and to our country, and we know that we have had an extremely alarming rise in smoking over the past decade. Changing this should be at the forefront of our public agenda.”

The manifesto’s signatories included public service heavyweights such as:
Former finance secretaries Margarito Teves and Ernest Leung
Former health secretaries Dr. Alberto Romualdez and Dr. Esperanza Cabral
Former finance undersecretary Romeo Bernardo

Also shoring up endorsements for the statement was a dazzling array of civil society leaders from the:
Action for Economic Reforms
Foundation for Economic Freedom
Management Association of the Philippines
Framework Convention Alliance of the Philippines
Philippine College of Chest Physicians
Philippine College of Physicians
Manila Adventist Medical Center and Colleges
National Youth Commission
Philippine Cancer Society
Social Watch Philippines
Medical Action Group
New Vois Association
Wallace Business Forum
Financial Executive Institute of the Philippines
Korean Chamber of Commerce
University of the Philippines Dragon Boat Team

As one, the advocates urged legislators in Congress for the immediate passage of the amended HB 5727. It would, they asserted, safeguard the lives of millions of Filipino smokers and their loved ones while raising public revenues for tobacco farmers and expanded health services for poor Filipinos.

“HB 5727, as amended is a bill whose time has come,” declared the coalition in the manifesto. With the final plenary voting for the Abaya sin tax bill slated to take place either on June 4 or 5, the advocates and former officials exhorted legislators in the Lower House to take their place in history among the “200 votes” that would finally secure the seven breakthrough wins for the Filipino people.