Recto liable for alleged ‘secret meeting’ with tobacco firms

Posted at 10/14/12 4:46 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Ralph Recto should be liable for violating ethical standards for government officials if reports are true that he had a “secret meeting” with tobacco companies, higher sin tax advocates said.

In a statement, Action for Economic Reform coordinator Filomeno Sta. Ana III said: “Sen. Recto must be made to answer why he should not be charged for violating the ethical standards for government officials. The Liberal Party, of which Recto is a member, should also warn him to stay in line with the President’s ‘daang matuwid.’”

Several columnists wrote last week that they supposedly received information from sources that Recto had closed-door sessions with tobacco industry officials.

Recto, who heads the committee on ways and means at the Senate, presented on Wednesday his version restructuring the sin tax measure.

He said the new tax regime on cigarettes could yield between P9.8 billion to P14.8 billion in additional revenues, while alcohol would contribute by as much as P5.2 billion to P7 billion in the first year or in 2013.

Stakeholders, including the Palace, are not happy with the so-called “watered down” version, however.

Recto already came out with a statement that the so-called secret meetings are not true. He said all his meetings are done in his office.

Some are not easily dissuaded, however.

“Issues discussed in the meeting should be made public. Why were the executives sworn to secrecy? The meeting and its secrecy is high irregular given that Recto was working on his version on the sin tax bill,” Sta. Ana stressed.

He said Recto is a member of the Senate, which ratified in 2005 the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 5 of the agreement provides that parties should protect public health policies related to tobacco control “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

Sta. Ana also cited the Memorandum Circular No. 2010-01 between the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health. The memorandum prohibits public officials and employees from, among other things, unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry, preferential treatment to the tobacco industry, acceptance of favors from the industry and conflicts of interest with the industry.

He also cited the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Governments Officials and Employees. The law exhorts officials to uphold public interest.