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(UPDATE 3 - 9:50 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE:6:44PM) Senator Ralph Recto on Monday resigned as chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, saying his position on the sin tax bill is no longer in sync with his counterpart official in the Executive department.
“Historically, the journey towards a new tax law is always undertaken by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the [Department of Finance] riding in tandem,” he said.
“What the emerging situation now is that my position is no longer in sync with my supposed principal because I am now seen as an obstruction and viewed with suspicion, then I have to take myself out of the equation,” he said.
“Sa ganito pong sitwasyon [with this situation], then my only recourse is to irrevocably resign the chairmanship of the committee,” he said.
Filomeno Sta. Ana of the think tank Action for Economic Reforms (AER) that has criticized Recto over his version of the sin tax bill, said they welcomed his resignation.
"What is clear is he is sensitive to public opinion. He knows the pulse of the people," Sta. Ana said.
Recto's action sends a signal to the senators that they just can't support the tobacco lobby. "The public is watching you," he said.
At the weekend, AER had said Recto may be in breach of the Code of Conduct for state employees as he cited reports that the senator met with big tobacco firms in early September before he drafted his committee report.
Caucus to take up resignation
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile approved the amended motion of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III to tackle Recto’s resignation as chairman of the ways and means committee.
“The motion to have an all-senators’ caucus tomorrow is approved upon the motion of Sen. Edgardo Angara to defer the earlier motion of Senator Sotto to refer Recto’s resignation to the Committee on Rules,” Enrile said.
Earlier, Sotto moved in the plenary to refer the “irrevocable resignation of Recto” to the Committee on Rules to study it, but Angara amended the same motion and proposed discussing the same in a caucus. He noted that a caucus will give senators an “opportunity to see beyond his [Recto’s] personal right to resign,” alluding to the virtual accusations of bribery, with the Palace’s liaison officer and lobby groups separately making veiled accusations that Recto had succumbed to the tobacco lobby.
With this, Sotto accepted the amendments of Angara to his earlier motion to refer Recto’s resignation to the Committee on Rules, and instead discuss it in a caucus. But Senator Joker Arroyo rejected the motion to discuss the same in a caucus.
Meanwhile, the Philippine College of Phycians (PCP) welcomed Recto's resignation.
"Recto's resignation is what the country needs. The clamor for genuine sin tax reforms did not only come from Malacañang. It was the public's clamor to save people from ailments due to smoking," PCP said in a statement on Monday.
"The challenge now lies on the Senate leadership to go back to work and pass the real sin tax reform ASAP. The Filipino people cannot afford any delay, for each day this measure is not passed, we are losing more lives. We will remained vigilant up to the very end for our country's healthcare and the future generation of Filipinos," it added.