Use Miriam's sin tax bill, experts urge senators

Posted at 10/22/12 2:38 PM

MANILA - Experts in medicine and the economy on Monday called on senators to reject the sin tax committee report of Sen. Ralph Recto, which critics have dismissed as a watered-down version of the proposed law.

Instead, they said senators should use the version of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago in plenary debates on the measure.

"It hews much more to the actual realities and the actual principles that we want. If everybody is in favor of a sin tax bill, let's start with that sin tax bill," economics professor Solita Monsod said of Santiago's version, where the projected tax revenue from tobacco and alcohol products is around P60 billion.

"You'll get more revenues. More lives will be saved," she added.

Recto, who resigned as chair of the Senate ways and means committee amid criticisms against his version of the sin tax bill, himself doesn't want his colleagues to use his committee report, saying it's his intellectual property.

"Pagbigyan na natin," Monsod said.

75,000 lives can be saved

At a forum, a doctor said Santiago's version will save more lives from tobacco-related deaths.

Based on his research, Dr. Antonio Dans of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine said 75,000 lives will be saved if Santiago's proposal will be passed and implemented, way above the 24,000 in Recto's version.

"By moving from Santiago to Recto, we are giving up 51,000 lives," he said.

Dans stressed that saving lives is more important than concerns that government revenues would fall and smuggling would worsen with higher taxes.

Recto had argued that his version of the bill--which has a projected revenue of P15 billion to P20 billion and a multi-tiered tax structure--is realistic and responsible.

"Sa Recto bill, maghihintay tayo ng 10 hanggang 20 years bago tumaas ang tax, at namamatay na ang mga tao. We cannot be this slow. We cannot start buying the hose when the fire is already there," Dans said.

Inelastic demand

Besides, Dans pointed out that the government would not lose money from higher sin taxes, particularly on tobacco. He reiterated that the demand for tobacco is "inelastic."

"Kahit itaas mo ang price ng tobacco, maninigarilyo at maninigarilyo pa rin ang marami," he said.

In the end, however, more people will quit smoking--close to 2.5 million--if higher taxes under Santiago's version would be implemented, Dans said. In contrast, only 790,000 will quit with the tax rates in Recto's version.

Dans and his fellow doctors from the Philippine College of Physicians hope the acting chair of the ways and means committee, Sen. Franklin Drilon, would fight for a sin tax bill that will give the government higher revenues and compel more people to stop smoking.

Asked if they agree with a reported compromise version that would yield P40 billion, Joan Latuja of the Action for Economic Reform said they would have to see the tax structure first.

Dans said lawmakers must not settle for it. "Ikokompromiso ba ang buhay ng 51,000 Pilipino? Hindi ba sila kasma sa usapan?"

Pro-sin tax groups launched a site called Sin Tax Watch (sintaxwatch.blogspot.com), to inform the public about senators' stand on the issue and pressure them to pass the bill into law.