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MANILA, Philippines - Seven sure-fire “wins” await Filipinos if excise taxes for tobacco and alcohol products are extensively restructured in 2012. These are the new fighting words that past and present supporters of sin tax reforms, including former top government officials, have pitched to rally support for HB 5727.
As the Abaya sin tax bill bats for a second reading at the Lower House, a broad multi-sectoral front of 13 advocates signed a new manifesto of support for the bill entitled “200 Votes and Seven Wins.”
The approval of the Abaya bill, the advocates said, would spell clear advances for the poor, the youth, health, the economy, tobacco farmers, politicians, and finally, the future. It would shield the youth and the poor from the country’s leading cause of mortality, secure an estimated P33 billion in additional revenues which would increase the resources of local governments and congressional districts, facilitate alternative livelihood projects for farmers, and fund the government’s universal health care program.
As a result, affirmed the manifesto, the passage of the Abaya sin tax bill reforms would help stem 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 15 years to really raise taxes on cigarettes,” said former 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 already know all the dangers this brings to them, their families and to our country, and we already know that we have had an extremely alarming rise in smoking over the past decade. Changing this situation should be at the forefront of our public agenda.”
Aside from Cabral, the manifesto’s signatories included public service heavyweights such as former finance secretaries Margarito Teves and Ernest Leung, and former undersecretary Romeo Bernardo. A scintillating array of civil society leaders from the Philippine College of Chest Physicians, the National Youth Commission, the Framework Convention Alliance of the Philippines, the Foundation for Economic Freedom, Action for Economic Reforms, the Philippine College of Physicians, WomanHealth, the Philippine Cancer Society, and the Seventh Day Adventists also shored up strong endorsements for the statement.
Together, the exponents lauded efforts by supporters in the House of Representatives who had delivered a resounding 46-14 vote in favor of the Abaya reforms at the committee level. In fact, on the very same day as the manifesto signing, ways and means committee chairman Isidro Ungab continued to exhort fellow lawmakers to espouse the “landmark legislation” for its anticipated social and economic pluses.
“This measure, when… signed into law, will be a significant step forward in our country’s resolve to improve the quality of life of our people given the social development, specifically health benefits, that this proposed measure aims to deliver,” contended Ungab in a sponsorship speech for HB 5727.
The coalition of former health and finance officials, civil society advocates, and congressional champions appealed to the general public as well as other lawmakers to throw in their hats behind HB 5727. A groundswell of popular support for the sin tax reform movement, stressed the advocates, would be the ultimate, decisive element in the movement’s campaign to garner the seven peoples’ victories.
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