- in Philippines

Senator Ralph Recto has taken to the Senate floor to passionately argue for his cause: protecting the interests of the beer and cigarette industry. The gentleman Senator stood up to his colleagues to defend these industries from possible increases in taxation that would threaten their billions per annum of income. After all, it’s not like the Philippines needs more tax revenue to fund programs like Universal Health Care.

If Senator Recto is to be believed, then protecting the rights of companies to make a profit by selling products that are detrimental to health should is more important protecting the right of Filipinos to good health.

The measure in question, filed by Senator Pia Cayetano seeks to increase excise taxes on alcohol products, tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and vape products. The revenue which would be generated from these taxes would fund the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act. The proposal as filed by Senator Pia Cayetano would have generated P47.9 billion in additional government revenue. But Senator Recto wants to bring this down to just P21 billion – a far cry away from the original proposal.

Because who deserves that P26.9 billion difference? Should it be going towards the medical bills of Filipinos? Or should it be lining the pockets of company execs? While the answer might seem obvious to those of us who aren’t Senator Recto, the pro-alcohol, pro-tobacco, and anti-health proposal is still being debated in the Senate.

President Duterte himself certified as urgent the passing of the pending sin tax bill given the pressing “need to generate additional revenue to support the effective implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, and t further protect the right to health of the people.”

Reading the transcript of the debate between Senators Cayetano and Recto, it because clear that the latter’s agenda was not to provide a legitimate alternative to the original proposal – instead, it was clear that Senator Recto’s goal for the day was to protect the interests of the beer and tobacco industry.

Unfortunately, scientific studies and statistical figures were the collateral damage on Senator Recto’s tirade. The transcript between him and Senator Cayetano just proves how biased he was when he entered the discussion. Like this gem of dialogue:

Senator Recto: With regard to heated tobacco, are there any studies that show that heated tobacco is worse than a conventional cigarette?

Senator Cayetano: Mr. President, they are the same. So, there are no studies that show that they are worse.

Senator Recto: So, there is not a single study that shows that a heated tobacco is worse than a conventional cigarette.

Senator Cayetano: Mr. President, the study shows that they are the same as conventional cigarettes.

Senator Recto: The first question is, no one says it is worse, right?

The question should not have been if they are worse – the question is: how can the government be a responsible body for its citizens while also being critical of what products are on the market?

Senator Recto also pushed for the body to tax alcoholic beverages by alcohol content – giving the pass to beer. Obviously, this could attract more youth drinkers by skewing the increase to keep beer prices low; Now only that, but the system is flawed – consumption patterns of beer and distilled spirits are not equal. However, both products can be equally abused and both can negatively impact the health of the consumer. But for Senator Recto, beer should be exempted because there’s more water in it.

“What I am saying is that I would rather that they binge on beer kasi mas maraming tubig doon than them binging on distilled,” said Senator Recto.

Senator Recto’s flimsy and transparent arguments are betraying his real intentions. He is still Ralph Morris, defender and champion of sin product manufacturers. For him, the bottom lines of these corporations are somehow to be held in equal reverence as the health of citizens.

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