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Health experts vow to campaign against solons favoring Recto version of sin tax
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – They may be dismayed today, but health advocates supporting higher sin taxes on alcohol and cigarettes promised to bring the issue into the next election and campaign against senators who will vote in favor of the “watered-down but realistic” version of Sen. Ralph Recto.
“I think the pro-health solons are increasing in number, as more people appreciate the rationale of our advocacy. So, our next step is, [to] listen, and to be vigilant. Second, we will name those pro-sin tax and pro-health senators so people will know whom to vote for in the next elections,” said Dr. Anthony C. Leachon, a cardiologist and member of a group lobbying for higher sin taxes.
Leachon said that if Recto, an administration ally, will continue to pursue his version in all the deliberations on the controversial sin tax bill, they will bring the issue before the electorate in the next election, so voters can vet the candidates of the Liberal Party-led coalition.
“There’s a plan by civil society to bring this issue before the voters in the next election. We will expose these in the election, because we consider this to be the most important step we can take,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, a group of health advocates led by Leachon confronted Recto in his office at the Senate to persuade him to consider Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s bill which will impose higher tax on sin products to generate P60 billion in revenues.
“We spoke with Senator Recto, and we asked him why he didn’t seem to consider that over 50,000 lives are at stake-- the difference between the Santiago and Recto report, [in terms of a higher mortality number],” Leachon said.
He said that if Recto is after the revenue not on the health side of the measure, he should consider or report out the Abaya version which could generate P30 billion in revenues.
“Naisip din namin na kung revenues ang mahalaga sa kanya, bakit mas pinili pa niya ang mas mababang P15 bilyon kaysa sa P60 bilyon, [or] even  the amended Abaya bill, we can’t understand that,” he said.
According to Leachon, their group had convinced some senators to support their stand against the Recto bill, including Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Santiago, Edgardo Angara, Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Only Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Recto have not been persuaded to tackle Santiago’s version.
However, Leachon said they were unable to persuade Recto to rectify some errors in his sponsorship speech, and the slide presentations on facts regarding issues that surrounds sin tax.
“We also discussed the contents of some of the slides in his speech—the lies and half-truths based on our researches particularly in some countries where smuggling has risen. We have evidence and research reports from the UP College of Medicine, Dr. Antonio Dans,” he said.
But, he said, the only assurance they got from Recto is that he will open his committee report to amendments and he will not ignore what Santiago may introduce during periods of interpellation and amendments.
“Open daw siya sa amendments, promise lang na hindi daw niya haharangin ang Santiago bill, kasi demokratikong senador daw siya,” Leachon said.
Recto’s realistic assumption is unrealistic
But, Leachon continued to argued that Recto’s realistic assumptions on the P15-20B revenues to be generated in his committee are not realistic enough.
“Hindi siya realistic, hindi siya reasonable, saka walang rationale ang pagbaba ng P15 bilyon. Kasi sa P15 bilyon., hindi mo mababawasan ang naninigarilyo, walang kita din sa gobyerno. Alin doon ang reasonable, at alin doon ang realistic, wala eh,” he said.
But, he said that if Recto just wanted to pitch in on the revenue side, he should consider the Abaya version which will generate at least P30 billion in revenues, which can go a long way for universal health program.
“We have no compromise: whatever is the original target, that’s what we endorse; this wasn’t plucked from thin air----the P60 billion computed from the price increase of cigarettes and tobacco consumption of tobacco. As the prices of cigarettes go up, the prevalence of smoking goes down,” he argued.
“Malinaw iyon, and then kung mas mataas ang revenue mo mas mataas ang mapupunta sa health care. Hindi lamang ito para sa isang tao na mabibinipisyuhan sa universal health care, kundi mababawasan ang mag-migrate na doctor, tataas ang salaries nila, maraming infrastructure, maraming premiums for PHilhealth na makatutulong sa ating kababayan,” he added.
Lobby money
Leachon admitted  he has no factual information that Recto, accused of meeting with big tobacco companies before reporting out his version, had benefited from lobby money, but added the practice is pervasive not just in the country but also worldwide.
Hindi ko masasabi na tumanggap si [I cannot say that] Sen. Recto [received anything],” he said, noting only that Philip Morris’s proposal given to Congress is “almost the same, it is a replica” of the Recto-endorsed version. In fact, he noted, the Philip Morris version is better than the Recto bill. The Recto proposal is 6-10-14 but Philip Morris’s is 6-12-14, which means the latter’s “low medium and high” is higher.