PH MEDICAL EXECS URGE SENATORS TO PASS P60 TOBACCO TAX BILL
Heads of medical societies nationwide call on Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the committee on ways and means, to lead the passage of bill increasing the tobacco tax to PHP 60 per pack. (Photo by: Ma. Teresa Montemayor)
MANILA -- A total of 30 leaders of Philippine medical societies on Friday urged the Senate to pass a tobacco tax of at least PHP60 per pack before the campaign period for May's mid-term elections.
Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) Independent Director of the Monetary Board Dr. Anthony Leachon said the PHP 60 per pack tax bill is supported by the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Finance (DOF).
Leachon explained that the PHP5 increase on the current PHP32.50 excise tax per pack of cigarettes, which was earlier approved by the House of Representatives, is not enough to support the Universal Health Care Law.
"We were depressed at that moment. If this is the banner program of the government and you lack funds, the thinking process of the executive is not aligned with that of the legislator," he said in press conference in Quezon City.
Citing that President Rodrigo Duterte certified the bill as urgent on January 7, Leachon questioned the lack of sense of urgency among Senate leaders to conduct a meeting on the matter.
"About a month ago, we had only a two-hour meeting with Senator Angara where I and Doctor Dans and the other advocates presented but there is no more follow-up," he said, adding that it will have to be refiled during the next Congress if it is not passed by the Senate in the first week of February.
National Academy of Science and Technology Academician Dr. Antonio Dans, who was also in the press briefing, said a higher tobacco tax bill is important in the implementation of other health bills and advocacies.
"There are 150,000 deaths a year from tobacco and 60 percent of Filipinos die without seeing a health worker. these highlight two major issues -- the health problem and the health care problem. Iyong mahirap ka tapos maysakit ka at walang mag-aalaga sa 'yo, parang grabe na iyon (It would be too much if you're poor and no one will care for you when you're sick)," he said.
Dans also refuted the claim of the tobacco industry and its supporters that the bill will kill the livelihood of the tobacco farmers.
"A huge portion of the bill will be for the tobacco farmers. Ang dapat sisihin ay ang (The ones to be blamed are the) tobacco companies for ruining our health and using our farmers as a reason not to pass the bill and to earn a lot of money at the expense of the farmers.
Aiming to fast-track the passage of the bill, Leachon said medical societies nationwide will campaign against legislators who will block or delay the passage of the higher tobacco tax bill.
"The Philippine College of Physicians will make a slate and we will choose the senators to vote. We are around 7,000 to 10,000 doctors and we have patients who have relatives and the other Philippine Medical Association doctors here who comprise another 70,000, think of the magnitude of the impact those who will not vote for them, that would be a minimum of five to six million voters," he said.
Meanwhile, Philippine College of Chest Physicians president Dr. Leonor Fernandez said they will endorse legislators who support their higher tobacco tax bill campaign.
"Napakalaking bagay ang tax na ito para masuportahan ang mga maysakit na Pilipino at mabawasan rin ang mga naninigarilyo, in that aspect the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) will be choosing senatoriables who will be supporting the health care bills, we cannot dictate everyone but we will endorse," PHA President Nanette Rey said.
Other medical groups who expressed their support for the measures are the Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine, Society of the Adolescent Medicine of the Philippines, Philippine Ambulatory Pediatric Association, Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology, and Philippine Rheumatology Association. (PNA)
Photo by Ma. Teresa Montemayo/PNA