Philippines: Boxing icon Pacquiao is determined to push bill doubling tobacco tax rate

11 December 2018
Scitech and Digital

APPARENTLY, Senate Bill 1599 is not moving as its author wants.

But the author, world boxing icon and Sen. Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, of Mindanao, is determined as ever to realize his goal for the SB 1599.

It can be recalled that the son of Mindanao from a poor family in General Santos City that was barely able to make ends meet before he rose to sports rockstar fame filed his tobacco measure in October 2017.

He said then that he intended the bill not just to increase tax collection revenues from tobacco, but also to protect the health of Filipinos.

But since that time, his SB 1599 has yet to make a real splash on the floor of the Upper Chamber of the Philippine Congress. It was crafted to amend Republic Act 10351.

On Saturday, December 8, he granted an interview with a few select reporters at the Elorde Gym housed inside the E-Com Center located in SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City.

In the brief meeting, he said he “will continue to push for the increase in tax rate imposed on cigarettes,” adding the bill’s fate is in the hands of his Senate colleague, Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Committee on Ways and Means.

“But he is apparently busy, ” Pacquiao lamented.

From Php32.50, SB 1599 seeks to almost double to Php60 the unitary excise tax imposed on cigarettes, also stipulating a nine percent annual increase in the tax.

Pacquiao is undaunted despite what the slow progress that’s happening to his pet bill.

“I think we only need one more hearing in the committee then we can already request for a committee report,” the forward-looking neophyte senator said.

“If there is already a committee report then we can bring it to the (Senate) floor already,” he added.

Pacquiao is ready and willing to speak with his colleague Angara and try to convince him to schedule a hearing very soon.

“If he’s not available we can still do it in a sub-committee level, ” he said. The senator, who will have another boxing bout in January 2019, said he understands that Angara is busy, being a re-electionist.

In a related development, the House of Representatives had already given approval to a bill increasing the levy on every pack of cigarette but only at Php37.50 by July 2019.

The increase of Php5 the House is seeking is a pittance compared to SB 1599’s tax hike of Php27.50.

He sees his bill reducing smoking prevalence to 19.8 percent by 2020. He also forecasts  realizing incremental revenue that will add to the government’s initiatives to increase tax collection.

Furthermore, Pacquiao sees lives saves, specially of the youth, if his bill becomes law.

“This is a very important bill, specially that it will add to the budget of Universal Health Care. That is why that is our focus, to have it approve.

“If we can raise (the tax on tobacco), we can save from Php40 to Php60 billion (annually), and reduce the number of smokers by one million, and we can save lives,” said Pacquiao.

On the other hand, he acknowledged the support of many of his fellow senators; but the still unfinished hearings on the proposed national budget for 2019 have affected deliberations on his bill.

He said they have to first pass the proposed national budget bill.

“But I am determined to push this bill (SB 1599). I will continue to speak and speak about it and push it.

Pacquiao said his wish is for Filipinos, particularly the youth, to be strong. “Look at me, I am already 40 years old, but God is good, I am healthy.”

He also had a message for his colleagues.

“Like what I said in my Privilege Speech (for SB 1599), I am asking for their support because this is for the welfare of our nation; we can also increase the national budget, specially Universal Health Care,” said Pacquiao.

Meanwhile, figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) revealed that 28 percent of Filipino adults — that’s a huge 17.3 million people — 15 years and older are current smokers of tobacco.

“Almost half (48 percent or 14.6 million) of adult males and 9 percent (2.8 million) of adult females are current smokers. Moreover, 23 percent of Filipino adults are daily tobacco smokers: 38 percent for males and 7 percent males,” the PSA said.

The statistics agency pointed out that Filipinos mainly smoke cigarettes, either  manufactured or hand-rolled.

“Cigarettes are smoked by 47 percent of men and 9 percent of women. On the average, male daily smokers consume 11 cigarettes per day while female daily smokers consume 7 cigarettes a day,” the PSA said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that in the Philippines the number of deaths related to smoking is at 20,000, and an estimated 10 Filipinos succumb every hour diseases related to tobacco.

“Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death. It is a prime factor in heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease. It can cause cancer of the lungs, larynx, esophagus, mouth, and bladder, and contributes to cancer of the cervix, and kidneys,” WHO said in “Module 5: Promoting Smoke-free Individuals.” (EKU)


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