September 21, 1972 was a day of infamy. It was the day that Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and made himself a dictator. Thousands were jailed, tortured, or killed by Marcos and his military. He destroyed the Philippine’s political institutions, and he devastated the Philippine economy through massive corruption, profligacy, and unsound policies.
Up until now, 47 years since the declaration of martial law, we continue to be haunted by Marcos — and his family.
There is Bongbong Marcos, Ferdinand’s son, who is attempting to steal the Vice Presidency and who is dreaming to become the next Philippine president.
And there is Imee Marcos who is as politically ambitious as her brother Bongbong.
Lately, Imee has been more visible than Bongbong in public. As a newly elected Senator, she talks a lot, but what she says is bad for the Filipino people.
Let me illustrate. Senator Imee has played the role of spoiler. She wants to block an important tax and health reform — the passage of higher taxes on e-cigarettes (e-cigs) and heated tobacco products (HTPs).
This writer sees these as rather moot because these points raised by Senator Imee had been addressed sufficiently by the proponents of the health tax during the hearing, and even in past discussions on excise taxes. But let me still answer her: It is never unfair to continuously increase taxes on harmful products such as alcohol and e-cigs. These products that bring death and disease must be made inaccessible and unaffordable, especially to the poor and to the young. The public should be made aware that at present, one out of five e-cigarette users is aged 10 to 19 years old according to the National Nutrition Survey of 2018. This is three times worse than the case of traditional cigarettes with only one out of 20 users are in the said age group. Hence, our proposal is that the tax on e-cigs and HTPs must be at least equal to that of traditional tobacco to prevent the youth from starting this addicting habit.
Taxing e-cigs and HTPs at a high rate not only prevents the young and the poor from using them, but the revenue from such is a source of needed funding for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law.
Senator Imee’s claim that these taxes are difficult to administer shows her ignorance of tax design. The proposed tax rates are specific and unitary, which result in simplicity and ease of administration.
Then again, we are not surprised that Senator Imee is blocking the reform. One might say that she is anti-tobacco tax because she hails from the tobacco-growing of Ilocos Norte, and she professes to side with the tobacco farmers. But she has been charged with misusing or misappropriating earmarked funds from tobacco taxes that should have otherwise gone to improve the wellbeing of the tobacco farmers. Like father, like daughter.
Being pro-tobacco (which means being anti-health) runs in the Marcos family.
In 2012, her younger brother, then-senator Bongbong, likewise opposed the sin taxes. He was even caught on camera having a caucus with a representative of the tobacco industry during the debates on the sin tax law.
Despite the opposition from Senator Imee, we are confident that this tax and health reform will pass soon. Unlike Senator Imee and her brother Bongbong, we do not want an increase in the number of young Filipinos who will be at risk because of early exposure to harmful products.
To be honest and transparent, my advocacy is not limited to securing health and tax reforms. Being an Iskolar ng Bayan from the University of the Philippines, a former chairperson of the University Student Council in Diliman, and a progressive, I remain involved in fighting tyranny and oppression. In this regard, I am thankful to all those who fought the Marcos dictatorship, especially those who sacrificed their lives. Their struggle has reaped the benefits of democracy, including the benefit of being able to express ourselves freely at present. To give honor to those who resisted the dictatorship, we must use the democratic rights that we have recovered to continue the struggle against the tyranny and greed that Imee, Bongbong and their family represent.
Hence, I use this platform now to fight for Filipino’s health and resist another attempt by the Marcoses to ruin the lives of Filipino people. On their attempt to harm our people’s lives, I dare say: Never again!
Arjay Mercado, a former student leader and alumnus of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, heads the sin tax team of Action for Economic Reforms.