Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday pushed for the passage of a bill seeking to increase excise taxes on tobacco products within the remaining nine session days of the current 17th Congress.
In a press conference, Gatchalian said the “best opportunity” to pass the proposed tobacco tax increase is during the last session days before the 17th Congress adjourns on June 7, noting that the bill’s third reading approval could be possible by next week.
Gatchalian, who proposed to increase cigarette taxes to PHP70 per pack, said the measure would be effective in raising the necessary funds to finance key measures, particularly the Universal Health Care law.
“These funds would go a long way towards improving health outcomes in the country, as well as improving mechanisms for policing cigarette smuggling and illicit trade,” Gatchalian said.
Social Watch Philippines co-convener, Dr. Maria Victoria Raquiza, cited that a funding shortfall of PHP63 billion exists for the first year of UHC, noting that the benefits of the landmark reform may not come to fruition without a significant increase in tobacco taxes.
“If the sin tax bill is passed, we are able to cut the funding shortfall for UHC by about one half,” Raquiza said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Leachon, chairperson of the Council of Past Presidents of the Philippine College of Physicians, reiterated that passing a pro-health tax increase is crucial to reducing smoking prevalence in the country.
“It is an established fact that cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death around the world. We must, therefore, see to it that we take the necessary steps to make sure that cigarettes are not affordable, particularly for the vulnerable sectors,” Leachon said.
He said raising the tax on cigarettes to at least PHP60 per pack is equivalent to saving at least one million Filipinos from the harmful effects of smoking.
Earlier this year, President Rodrigo R. Duterte certified Senate Bill 1599 by Senator Manny Pacquiao as an urgent measure, which also gained the support of the Department of Finance and the Department of Health.
Senate Committee on Ways and Means chair Sonny Angara has committed to sponsoring a committee report upon the resumption of sessions.