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Don’t paint ‘false picture’ on sin taxes, Cayetano warns industry players

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Senator Pia Cayetano on Sunday warned industry players against painting a false picture on the proposed increase on sin taxes on alcohol products, adding that it would instead help the funding gap in the Universal Health Care program implementation.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque admitted last week that there will be no nationwide implementation of the UHC law next year due to budget constraints and lack of readiness.

“When we’re talking about [taxing] sin products, please do not scare the people into thinking that what [the government is] trying to do is harmful to the Filipino people,” said Cayetano.

She also cited the calculations of the Department of Finance proposal to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages could raise around P33 billion in incremental revenue in its first year of implementation.

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Sin Tax Coalition co-convenor Dr. Anthony Leachon told the Senate hearing that the measure will provide an additional source of funding for the Universal Health Care Law, which still faces a funding shortfall for its first year of implementation.

“Raising sin taxes is a proven revenue- generating measure, and there is a need to address the current funding shortfall which amounts to P63 billion for the UHC law,” said Leachon.

He said the DOF is expected to generate an incremental revenue of around P33 billion.

“This, coupled with the cigarette tax increase passed last Congress will help bridge the gap, and we hope that our legislators take this into account when deliberqting i. the proposwl for higher taxes,” Leachon said.

Cayetano also downplayed the. claim of Olivia Limpe-aw, president of the Destilleria Limtuaco and Co., that the alcohol tax increase would be detrimental to the poor, as curbing alcohol consumption would take away a part of what gives them satisfaction.

A staunch health advocate, the senator said the poor deserve a “better kind of happiness” – one which will not cost them their health and their families’ wellbeing.

“I would often hear, ‘Do not deprive the poor of the things that make them happy,’ supposedly alcohol and cigarettes. That is such a sad, sad fact. Because in the long run, that is what causes them so much misery,” said Cayetano.

“If it is our goal to become an upper-middle income country, can we not leave our poor with this kind of happiness [harmful vices like smoking and excessive drinking]? Can we offer them instead a better kind of happiness, including educating them as to the right choices they could make?” she asked.

More than anything, Cayetano noted that the country’s alcohol problem causes more damage to millions of Filipino families in terms of related diseases, road crashes, domestic abuse, and crimes, and therefore should be addressed through a variety of public health interventions and social reforms, including taxation.

“If you’re going to say that there’s X amount of people to lose jobs, then I am going to dig up all the figures to show how many families are affected by the same sin products – how many deaths, how many battered women, how many neglected children,” she emphasized.

Dr. Maricar Limpin of the Action on Smoking and Health Philippines said alcohol is one of the leading causes of non-communicable diseases nd cancers.

She stressed that increasing alcohol taxes is proven to improve health outcomes by increasing the risk of these diseases.

“Alcohol use is linked to various cancers such as cancer of the breast, liver and the mouth as well as stroke and hypertension,”she said.

The senator also said excessive alcohol consumption plays a role in domestic violence against women.

She pointed out that a lot of women are battered and some are even killed precisely because of an alcohol problem, and that is something that she wanted to address.

“We are here to promote responsible drinking, and we cannot assume that every household is managed the way you mention, wherein the woman holds the purse, and that they would be limited in their drinking,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano’s committee is hearing the proposed measures seeking to increase sin taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products (Package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or CTRP).

The panel last August 29 conducted its second public hearing on Senate Bill No. 383 and House Bill No. 1026 – Increasing the Excise Tax Rates on Alcohol Products and E-Cigarettes.

Industry leaders were given the opportunity to present their position on proposals to raise taxes on alcohol products to augment funds for the government’s universal health care program.

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