MANILA: Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino has certified as urgent the bill increasing the excise tax on “sin products” particularly cigarettes and alcoholic drinks, a senior administration lawmaker reported on Friday.
With the certification, Senator Franklin Drilon, the principal sponsor and chairman of the chamber’s Committee on Ways and Means, expressed optimism his colleagues would approve the bill on Monday.
The proposal, Drilon pointed out, would raise about $1 billion a year in additional revenues to fund the government’s health programme and help arrest the alarming increase of smoking especially among the young.
He disclosed Aquino issued the certification on Friday, a day before he was to leave Saturday to attend the annual 21st summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) to be hosted by Cambodia in its capital city of Phnom Penh.
In justifying the bill as urgent, Aquino said it aims “to address the need to restructure the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products in order to enhance the revenue-generating potential of the tax system and utilise the incremental revenue for urgent funding of the universal health care programme.”
The programme is to be implemented by the government-run Philippine Health Deposit Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and cover especially the poor Filipinos, which will enable them to avail of services in government and private hospitals and similar medical facilities.
The government also assured it would allocate about $80 million annually from the increased revenue to help the thousands of affected tobacco farmers in Northern Luzon for alternative livelihood projects.
Drilon became the bill’s principal sponsor when the ways and means committee chairman Senator Ralph Recto resigned amid allegations that he benefited from huge fund raised by the country’s tobacco lobby to ensure approval of a “watered-down” version of the bill.
Despite Recto’s vehement denial, health advocates also disclosed they monitored the senator’s secret meeting with representatives of cigarette manufacturers days before he was to report the bill to the Senate for debates and action.