Philippines: Groups tout health issues for elections

5 May 2016

SEVERAL groups advanced health issues for the May 9 elections.

One is HealthJustice Philippines Inc., a public health policy think tank and Bloomberg Awardee for Global Tobacco Control, which lauded the action of Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ban smoking in all voting precincts on May 9.

The Minute Resolution 16-0234 issued by the Comelec on April 5 reiterated the policy of the CSC on a 100-percent “Smoke-Free Policy.” The policy was under CSC Memorandum Circular 17 series of 2009. The Comelec resolution also endeavored to enforce a total smoking ban in all voting centers this coming elections.

The smoking prohibition will cover 36,788 voting centers and 92,509 clustered precincts nationwide in the forthcoming polls.


In the Philippines, tobacco statistics are alarming. Filipinos consume more than 72 billion sticks of cigarettes per annum, while the Department of Health estimates that 10 Filipinos die every hour due to tobacco-related diseases. That’s 240 deaths every day or 87,600 every year.

Meanwhile, the Youth for Sin Tax Movement (YSTM) is urging voters to reject national candidates who are said to be “anti-health” because they rejected the Sin Tax law in 2012.

“We cannot understand why these politicians chose to side with the peddlers of this deadly product [tobacco],” Madeiline Aloria of YSTM was quoted in a statement as saying. “It must be in their interests to support and protect the Sin Tax Law considering its effectiveness in saving our youth from addiction, and, eventually, diseases and deaths.”

Aloria cited the recent 2015 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) that shows a significant 40 percent drop in the number of smokers among the youth, aged 20 years and below, from 9.1 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent in 2015.

According to the said survey, smoking prevalence among Filipino adults drastically decreased from 31 percent in 2008 to 23.3 percent in 2015.

“This means four million less Filipino smokers and 700,000 deaths averted because they were discouraged from getting started with the fatal habit,” Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), was quoted in a statement as saying.

Among the candidates named by YSTM and FCAP as “anti-health” were vice presidential aspirants Ferdinand Marcos, Francis Escudero and Gringo Honasan and senatorial candidates Ralph Recto and Tito Sotto. Vice presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano and senatorial candidate TG Guingona did not attend the session when the Senate, voting 10-9, ratified the law in December 2012.

At the last vice presidential debate, Marcos claimed that no benefit can be acquired from the Sin Tax Law by dependents of tobacco industry and that he will oppose any future increases in sin tax, according to Limpin.

“He dismissed the fact that billions of pesos from the Sin Tax are dedicated to provide tobacco farmers with alternative sources of income,” Limpin said. “He also conveniently ignored the effect of the law in helping people give up smoking due to higher prices,” she added.

The groups also quoted Escudero in the vice presidential debate as saying, “Bakit kung ano pa ang madalas ginagamit ng mahihirap ang binubuwisan ng sin tax?”

Aloria said Escudero appears to have a misplaced concern for the poor.

“Instead of protecting the vulnerable sector from getting sick, he’d rather keep cigarettes and alcohol accessible to them,” Aloria said.

“During the campaign, he vowed to expand the coverage of Philhealth for the poor, but where will he get the money to finance this if he does not agree with Sin Tax and even promised to lower corporate and income taxes?” Aloria asked.

The groups also recalled that Recto, who was then the Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair, authored the ‘Recto Morris’ bill during the Sin Tax deliberation in 2012. Sin Tax advocates tagged the committee report he released as ‘Recto-Morris report’ as it closely resembled the proposal of Philip Morris.

“We hope the people will remember them as the legislators who did not want to reform the taxes in cigarettes and alcohol. We hope the people will remember that had they succeeded, we would not have enough funds to cover the health expenses of the poor through PhilHealth and the Department of Health,” Jo-ann Diosana, Senior Economist of Action for Economic Reforms (AER), was quoted in a statement as saying. “May we all remember that if they were successful, we would not have saved the young and the poor from their eventual death due to cigarette addiction.”

The AER, FCAP and YSTM, along with the Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine and Womanhealth Philippines, were among the core members of the coalition that pushed for the passage of the Sin Tax Law in 2012.

The groups are urging voters to reject these candidates on May 9 “due to the strong likelihood that they will undermine the law when its mandatory review starts in the third quarter of 2016.”