DOH, health advocates back higher sin taxes

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
DOH, health advocates back higher sin taxes
In his SONA on Monday, Duterte called on Congress to pass a bill that will further raise the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products.

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) and health advocates are elated over the call of President Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for another round of increase in sin taxes, saying this is much needed by the country.

Meanwhile, there is renewed hope for coconut farmers as the President brings up the coco levy fund issue.

According to DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo, they “fully support an increase in the tax of tobacco, alcohol, vapes and nicotine delivery systems.”

“This will help decrease their consumption and prevent illness and death among Filipinos. At the same time, money will be raised to help fund universal health care (UHC),” he noted in an interview.

In his SONA on Monday, Duterte called on Congress to pass a bill that will further raise the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products.

For Sin Tax Coalition co-convenor Anthony Leachon, having higher sin taxes will not only reduce smoking prevalence rates but will also generate “huge funds” for the implementation of the UHC.

“We need to reduce those severely affected by smoking – the price sensitive individuals – the poor, the old, rural and urban folks. The marginalized sectors are the ones severely affected by smoking,” he added.

The group is pushing for the P70 per pack increase proposed by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian or the P90 per pack proposed by former senator JV Ejercito. These measures, however, will have to be refiled with the new Congress.

Leachon maintained a new tax scheme must also cover electronic cigarettes to “address the rising epidemic of lifestyle diseases.”

Health advocates weren’t the only ones rejoicing during Monday’s SONA.

After initially vetoing the bill, Duterte brought up the coco levy fund anew, prompting Sen. Francis Pangilinan to urge fellow legislators of the 18th Congress to pass the long-overdue measure that would allow the country’s 3.5 million coconut farmers to benefit from the estimated P100-billion fund in cash and assets.

“Most of the farmers now who were imposed with the coco levy are already old, if not deceased, and were not able to get a glimpse of the justice they’ve been fighting decades for,” the former presidential assistant for food security said in Filipino.

Pangilinan has re-filed Senate Bill 31, or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, a version of the bill crafted after close consultations with coconut farmer organizations.

“First among all the measures we’ve filed is our proposed legislation for our coconut farmers because our priority is to finally put an end to their suffering and make their lives more comfortable,” the senator said.

The coco levy refers to the additional taxes imposed on coconut farmers in 1973 by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The coco levy fund was then used to invest in businesses for the personal gain of Marcos and his cronies.

After Marcos was deposed in 1986, coconut farmers, with the help of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, filed court cases to recover their investment. For over 40 years, the money was trapped in court disputes.

The CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) executive secretary Fr. Edu Gariguez praised Duterte for advocating for the passage of the bill, saying, “The President calling for passage of Coco Levy Bill is one of the good policy agendas that came out of the SONA.”   – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan



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