Reelected Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said that the passage of a measure to increase sin taxes on cigarettes is “not impossible,” however, he also admitted that it is “a bit more difficult.”
“Yes it’s to be increased to 45 pesos and progressively increasing every year 45-50-55-60,” said Angara, whose committee has been conducting a hearing on three separate bills which recommended to raise taxes on cigarettes.
Angara said there will be an additional 5-percent incremental every year after 2021.
Outgoing Senator JV Ejercito has been vouching for a P90 hike per pack of cigarette while Senators Win Gatchalian and Manny Pacquiao are asking for a P60 per pack and P70 per pack increase.
Angara said Senate President Vicente Sotto III and and leadership promised to do their best to ensure the passage of the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri told the media that on Wednesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominquez reiterated the need for additional funding for our new Universal Health Care measure as the government has a large budget deficit for that program.
“We the senators all agreed to do our best to pass this before the 17th Congress adjourns on June 5. He said the sponsorship will start on Monday, May 27.
The Senate leader also told Dominguez who attended the Senate caucus Wednesday afternoon that they are sympathetic to the cause of the government with regards to increasing sin taxes.
Sotto, for his part, said they will exert best effort to pass the measure on increasing the sin taxes.
The Senate leaders issued these statements after Dominquez met with them in the Senate and renewed the government’s stand in increasing sin taxes.
Earlier, Zubiri told reporters the measure that would address the P62-billion funding gap for the first year of UHC implementation, maybe tackled by the senators, but it will not be passed before the 17th Congress ends.
Told about the President certifying its urgency, Zubiri said, “I thought the Senate is not a rubber stamp (of Malacanang).”
“In the Senate, we discuss issues-based issues. I know it’s a priority. We need it for the UHC. I personally will vote for it, but…we cannot stop our colleagues from individually asking questions or interpellating on this measure. The problem is we only have nine days,” said Zubiri.
He even described the proposed measure as “bloody” in the plenary that would entail “bloody” debates. He slso said it had lukewarm support.
In a separate interview, Sotto III dismissed the sin tax bill is “good as dead,” but conceded that it would encounter rough sailing among the senators.
“It’s on the committee level. The committee report might be finished, but we are talking of only nine session days. While it maybe passed, let’s say, there will only be two or three days for interpellations… there might be no more time for bicam and ratification. So at this time, it’s doubtful, but I’m not saying it’s dead,” he said.
Sotto also said that there were many questions on the sin tax bill in fhe committee (ways and means) level.
He said some of their colleagues questioned the position being taken by the Department of Finance (DOF), not only on the issues of the sin taxes but also on the issues of the other bills they passed.
The DOF and the Department of Health (DOH) are making a final push for the outgoing Congress to further raise sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol to respond to a cumulative funding gap estimated around P426 billion over the next five years for the full and proper implementation of the UHC program.
Dominquez confirmed that there remains a P62 billion funding shortfall for the UHC’s first year of implementation.
“If we do not establish new sources of revenue, we will. not have enough funds to properly, fully implement UHC and ensure a better quality of life for all Filipinos,” Dominquez said.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, chairperson of the Council of Past Presidents of the Philippine College of Physicians, noted that the passing of a pro-health tax increase is a key to lowering smoking prevalence in the country.
He said raising the tax on cigarettes to at least P60 per pack, as proposed by Sen. Win Gatchalian, is tantamount to saving at least one million Filipinos from the harm of smoking. “I hope we do not waste the opportunity of passing this key reform this Congress, given that we already have good options on the table in the Senate,” he added.
Meanwhile, Zubiri also divulged that some senators felt bad after the President vetoed some finance team measures.
“Many aired their sentiments on vetoed measures at nag-signify that they will ask questions about these finance-led vetoed measures,” said Zubiri.