Sin tax to go a ‘long way’ in protecting people’s health, welfare

Speech of Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Senator Pia S. Cayetano on the Bicameral Conference Committee Report on Sin Tax

Mr. President, as Chairperson of the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference committee that discussed the proposed sin tax reform measure, I now have the privilege to report to you the approved bicam version of our bill.

These are now the rates that the bicam committee adopted:

For fermented liquor, the specific tax rates will be raised to P35 in 2020, P37 in 2021, P39 in 2022, P41 in 2023, and P43 in 2024, with a 6 percent indexation in the following years.

For distilled spirits, the specific tax rates will be raised to P42 in 2020, P47 in 2021, P52 in 2022, P59 in 2023, and P66 in 2024, with a 6 percent indexation in the following years. There will also be an ad valorem tax rate of 22 percent beginning next year.

For sparkling and still wines, the fixed tax rate will be P50, with a 6 percent indexation in the following years.

For heated tobacco products or HTPs, the tax rate will be P25 in 2020, P27.50 in 2021, P30 in 2022, and P32.50 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation in the following years.

For salt nicotine, the tax rate will be P37 in 2020, P42 in 2021, P47 in 2022, P52 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation in the following years.

For free base vape products, the tax rate will be P45 in 2020, P50 in 2021, P55 in 2022, P60 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation in the following years.

These rates are expected to generate P22.2 billion worth of revenues from alcohol and e-cigs during the first year of implementation, minus the VAT exemption on specific prescription medicines (P5.2 billion), which will bring the net incremental revenues from the measure to P17.1 billion.

Mr. President, I would like to put on record that as Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I had pushed for substantially higher sin tax rates under our Committee Report to meet the funding requirements for universal health care. Moreover, it is my firm belief that taxation can be an effective tool to deter the consumption of products that are deemed harmful to our people’s health. All this, while balancing the interests of the various industries involved.

But we also recognize that as a bicameral body, Congress works on the principles of fair, democratic deliberations and consensus building. Having said this, I thank my fellow legislators for their input and cooperation, which will now pave the way for the ratification of this meaningful measure. I remain confident that, albeit lower than what we originally proposed, the revenues to be generated under this sin tax measure would go a long way in protecting our people’s health and welfare.

Note: As manifested on the floor during Wednesday’s session (Dec. 18), the speech was not read by Senator Cayetano and was inserted into the Senate records.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano confers with members of the House panel during the bicameral conference meeting on the Sin Tax Bill. (L-R) Deputy Speaker (DS) Deogracias Victor Savellano, DS LRay Villafuerte, Rep. Jack Duavit, Rep. Estrellita Suansing, and House Ways and Means Chair Joey Salceda.
Tax sin products for people’s health: Senator Pia S. Cayetano with fellow bicam panel members Sen. Francis ‘Tol’ Tolentino and Sen. Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel.
Senate ways and means committee chair Pia Cayetano greets finance secretary Sonny Dominguez, who made a surprise visit at the bicam meeting and watched the proceedings from the sidelines.
Bicam bill is signed! (L-R, 1st row) Deputy Speaker (DS) Deogracias Victor Savellano, DS Raneo Abu, Sen. Francis Tolentino, Senate WAM Chair Pia S. Cayetano, House WAM Chair Joey Salceda, Rep. Sharon Guarin (L-R, 2nd row) Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Rep. Estrellita Suansing, Sen. Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa (partly hidden), Sen. Imee Marcos, Sen. Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel, Rep. Jose Antonio Alvarado, DS LRay Villafuerte, Rep. Sheena Tan, Rep. Jack Duavit, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Rep. Teodorico Jaresco, Jr.
Standing tall: Joint press conference by Senator Pia S. Cayetano and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, Ways and Means chair of the Senate and House, respectively, to announce the bicam approval of the sin tax bill.
Hands-on: Senator Pia Cayetano watches as Senate plenary pages facilitate the signing of the bicam committee report on the sin tax bill among the senators.
Light moment with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon. Both senators were instrumental in the passage of the 2012 Sin Tax Bill (RA 10351).
Despite lower-than-desired rates, Senator Pia Cayetano believes that the 2019 sin tax measure would still go a ‘long way’ in protecting people’s heath and welfare.

Pia: My work continues to tax e-cigarettes for public health

Transcript of interview with Senator Pia Cayetano on President Duterte’s directive to ‘ban’ e-cigarettes 

Question (Q): What happens to the sin tax bill following the order of the President to ban vapes?

 

Sen. Pia: The way I look at it is my work continues. Because our President has really just expressed – from my understanding – his disappointment and exasperation with the e-cig industry. And that’s why he made that statement na “i-ban na yan.”

 

Because actually, all this time, he was waiting for all of us to do our job. And my job is to use taxation as a tool to protect the citizens, and of course, there’s also a fundraising measure as far as DOF is concerned.

 

But we have to understand the background. The background is, DOH issued an Administrative Order regulating e-cigarettes. And they said it in my hearing, they said it in consultations na ayaw ng mga industry ang AO na yan. The industry players said that they were not happy with that AO.

 

In fairness, there were also some industry players who said that they are happy to be regulated. Meanwhile, some of these people went ahead and filed cases to prevent FDA and DOH to regulate them. And these courts issued a TRO. So ngayon, we have products that are clearly harmful to the public [that are not being regulated]. We can debate and we can discuss it longer. But there is no doubt. I don’t know anyone in the business who will say safe na safe ito. There are health hazards there. And they are unregulated. Eh ‘di nabwisit si Presidente, so ang basa ko sa kanya, “Ah ganun ha? Ayaw niyo magpa-regulate, i-ban ko na lang kayo.”

 

And that’s how I feel also. Ayaw niyo magpa-regulate? Eh ‘di lumabas na kayo sa bansang ito. We’re willing to, and that was the direction that I was going. Taxation to me is just a means, a tool to help make these products that are harmful less accessible to the vulnerable, especially the youth.

 

Pero, meron din akong draft bill to regulate vaping and ecigs, etc. na ready rin akong isalang at i-defend as soon as mapasa ko na itong taxation portion. Kasi nauna lang naman yun because meron lang talaga tayong hinahabol na timeline.

 

Q: How will the ban affect the revenue generation of DOF?

 

Sen. Pia: Well, it’s very small compared to the overall collection. That is because e-cigs is still not widespread. It’s a new product. Bago lang yan. Ako nga hindi ko alam na may ganyang product until like a year ago na nakita kong may ganun.

 

So it will not contribute greatly immediately. I remember, DOF had said at some point, kung walang mako-collect diyan, okay lang kasi DOF recognizes that health comes first.

 

But I also understand that the President has also clarified his statement and I just have to push through with my part of the job. My job is to pass the taxation measure whether or not there’s an EO that comes out, if something comes out tomorrow, whether it’s a total ban or regulating, I have to be ready. Because this taxation measure has to be of a more or less permanent nature.

 

Paano kung temporary lang ang ban, tapos walang taxation measure in place? So I have to have that in place. And just to clarify also, there is actually a taxation measure in place. This was the law that was already passed last June towards the end of the 17th Congress [Republic Act 11346]. So that will be the one that will come into effect in January if I don’t push through with this measure and there is no ban.

 

So I have to push through in anticipation. I cannot assume na mato-total ban yan. I have to still do my job.

 

Q: Legally speaking, is the EO powerful enough to stop the entry of vape products and use, etc.?

 

Sen. Pia: You have to recognize, first of all, like I mentioned, again let’s go back.

 

DOH issued an AO. DOH time and again, and FDA, has the power to protect the public from health risks. That is their inherent power. Kung lahat na lang ng risks, let’s say itong sa polio, aantayin nila ang legislature, mahirap yun. There are parts of the work of the Executive that require immediate action.

 

So, DOH cannot always be waiting for the legislature to pass something. It is inherent in the Constitution, Article II Section 15 says that it is the State’s duty to protect the people’s health.

 

So may powers and responsibility ang DOH diyan and that goes without saying ang DOH naman is just an arm of no less than the President. They are under the President, so the President will also act that way.

 

But, I am not going to debate right now what is covered by the legislative powers and the executive powers. For me, you look at it on a case-to-case basis. Right now, the regulations that are supposed to protect the people from the harmful effects of e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco products, otherwise known as HTPs, has been TRO’ed.

 

Kung ako din ang Presidente, sasabihin ko sa kanila, “Ah ganun, ni-TRO niyo yung aking health arm? ‘Di sige, i-ban ko na lang kayo.”

 

Q: Just to be clear, the bill you will push is just to regulate e-cigarettes or to institutionalize banning?

 

Sen. Pia: Right now, on the floor is the taxation measure that you know. So as of now, as of the past few months, I was pursuing, I was going along the lines of the direction of the Executive, which is to highly regulate.

 

The President and even DOF Secretary, DOH, have been very clear that there are harmful effects of ecigs. And I myself went to WHO and have confirmed this. Everything I heard in the hearings were confirmed during my trips abroad that we are dealing with a harmful product. So it must be regulated. And as I said, taxation is a means to regulate it for health purposes.

 

Meanwhile, for the health side, there are bills – I looked at it, I am actually vice chair of the Committee on Health and as you all know, an advocate for health. There are pending bills but I intend to file a bill, which I believe is more comprehensive and is more reflective of the need to highly regulate a product that poses a health risk to the Filipinos.

 

Wala pa ang bill na yun. It’s in the drafting stage. And if you recall, I’ve been busy as the chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, but my interest is always health. So my trip to WHO has given me more knowledge.

 

Actually, during the budget, I was reviewing that bill on the side. I’d say it’s about 90% complete. I just really wanted a few more revisions. But I’ll be ready to file that anytime.

 

Q: The filing will come after the taxation measure passes?

 

Sen. Pia: Hindi naman. If may time naman ako to finalize that bill, I will file it. And that bill, as I said in answer to your question, is going along the direction of highly regulating.

 

Si Senator Tolentino, whom I worked very closely with – he was in WHO – is for a total ban. Kasi for me, it’s a thin line. Ang aming understanding of the health risk is exactly the same. It’s more of the appreciation of what would work better in our country, a total ban or highly regulating [these products]?

 

Part of me wants total ban. But the other part of me is okay with highly regulating. And this is where I want to share this conundrum that I face, because here you have industry players saying, “I-regulate niyo kami, mas gusto naming ma-regulate para ma-weed out natin ang mga fly-by-night diyan and those that might produce products that don’t comply with the safety standard.”

 

But meanwhile, ni-TRO naman nila ang pagre-regulate ng FDA and DOH. ‘Di ngayon, unregulated. Paano ba yun?

 

Q: Can you be more specific, ano ang ibig sabihin ng “to highly regulate”?

 

Sen. Pia: What I mean by saying ‘highly regulate’ is, it can be sold but there are many -not just guidelines, but there are many dos and don’ts. And those dos and don’ts, I will enumerate.

 

But offhand, you cannot sell to the youth and, in this case, I have expanded it to young people. Because ang brain, there is evidence that shows that the brain continues to develop until 25 years old. So at the age of 19, hindi ka na [minor], pero ang brain mo and decision-making skills mo are still very susceptible to persuasion, to advertisement and all that. So, that’s one way of regulating – that you ban the youth and even young people.

 

Advertising, you highly regulate that. You either totally ban or you only allow it in limited spaces. So that’s what I mean, maybe we can have a separate discussion on that. But I am giving you a glimpse of what I mean by highly regulate. And even the places where you will sell.

 

I’d love to give you this example. In the United Kingdom, where they actually allow e-cigs to be sold freely, the reason for that is because their cigarettes are highly regulated. You cannot enter a store and see cigarettes anywhere. So nag-drop na ang consumption ng youth nila.

 

So now, with the e-cig business, it appears that their youth is not vulnerable to it the way the youth in the US is. Because there are no cigarettes around. You can’t enter a store and find it. In fact, I wanted to make a point of buying, I kept forgetting because every time I enter a convenience store, you won’t see it.

 

So ang cigarette industry nila – I’m referring to cigarette industry – is highly regulated. And this allowed them to now look at what e-cigs can do for them. They are not allowing it na walang regulation, ha? Kasi for them, it is still a harmful product. Pero medyo liberal sila in allowing it as an alternative to cigarettes.

 

Q: So the direction towards eventually banning the selling of e-cigs in convenience stores will be part of the bill?

 

Sen. Pia: If you ask me, it should be included in the debates, because it’s a harmful products. And all across the world, connected pa rin kasi yan sa cigarettes. So, cigarettes in other parts of the world, very regulated na ang kanilang pagbebenta.

 

So si e-cigs, saan pumapasok diyan? Eh parang tayo, nafa-fast forward. Hindi pa nga natin totally nare-regulate ang cigarettes, nandito na si e-cigs.

 

So gusto ni e-cigs, “Huwag niyo naman kami masyadong i-regulate, ang cigarettes nga hindi niyo nire-regulate.” That’s not an excuse, eh ‘di i-regulate kayo pareho ng mas matindi. Dapat naman talaga ma-regulate silang pare-pareho.

 

Q: Does the order to ban e-cigs have an effect on the President’s directive to certify the sin tax bill as urgent?

 

Sen. Pia: No. I don’t believe so, because like I mentioned, the President is very vocal about his concerns, ang ideas niya, he will really just say it. So my understanding is, just like me, when he says, “I-ban na lang yan,” it’s because of the facts that he’s faced with. It’s because of the annoying reality that these people don’t want to be regulated and then there are courts that actually felt that the business interest of these vaping companies are more important than the welfare and health of the Filipinos.

 

It boggles my mind. At si Presidente din, takang taka kung bakit ganyan sila magdesisyon. ni-TRO nila ang Department of Health and FDA.

 

Q: Will the sin tax bill be approved before the year ends?

 

Sen. Pia: I hope so. I have been having more detailed discussions with my colleagues. And I have expressed the request of DOF that we expedite this. So napapag-usapan na yan. And I have requested na magkaroon ng caucus right after the budget and that we prioritize the debates. Kasi ready naman ako.

 

Q: Does the caucus have a schedule already?

 

Sen. Pia: Sinabi ko naman kay SP [Senate President Vicente Sottto III] na gusto ko sana mag-caucus right after. Syempre, ayaw ko naman makagulo dahil hilong hilo na kaming lahat sa long hours ng budget. But hopefully. Kasi period of amendments na lang naman kami. So kung masisingit ko yun during one afternoon, para ma-explain ko na and ma-discuss din itong effects ng ban, baka iba-iba din ang ideas nila.

 

Ako, I want to say that tuloy natin ito. Kasi it’s just a question of rates. I don’t think anyone is not for taxing these sin products, it’s just a question of rates. So I wanna just sit down and discuss with them, “Saan tayo ngayon?” kasi ako, I stand by the rates that I propose.

 

Thank you! #

To tax or ban e-cigarettes? Pia to wait for President’s EO banning e-cigs

Reaction to President Duterte’s directive to ban e-cigarettes
By Senator Pia S. Cayetano  
Chairperson, Senate Committee on Ways and Means
.
Over the months,  I’ve read numerous studies and reports on e-cigarettes, conducted hearings, had discussions with health advocates, including experts in WHO, and listened  to the industry  and the speakers they arranged for me to meet. All of these led me to conclude that:

 

– We are dealing with products that clearly  have health risks despite industry and their supporters saying the risks are less than smoking and that they are an effective device to help smokers quit;

– These health risks are still being documented and studied;

– Some of these products have caused deaths and severe illnesses in various forms.

What this means is that we must really assess if this is a product that should be outright banned, as has been already done in some countries like Australia, Singapore, Brazil, etc., or strictly regulated, which was the direction I was taking as Chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Meanwhile, the President’s recent pronouncement to ban e-cigarettes is an assertion of the authority of the State to restrict the use of any consumer product that endangers public health. I agree that when the people’s health is at risk, public interest must always take precedence over any business or commercial interest.

As a backgrounder, it is important to note that the e-cigarette industry was previously given the opportunity to work and thresh out issues with the government. The Department of Health (DOH) issued Administrative Order (AO) 2019-0007 last August precisely to lay down regulations for e-cigarette products. Unfortunately,  members of the industry chose to question the AO in court instead of welcoming government regulation.

In the meantime, the very first case of electronic cigarette- or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) was reported in the country last weekend, involving a 16-year-old girl.

No issue can be resolved if members of the industry would insist on shunning any form of regulation by constantly suing the DOH and Food and Drugs Administration (FDA)! With this attitude,a  ban is really in order.

I await the EO from the President. Until then, these products that everyone, even those in the industry, recognize as harmful are in the market, and should be taxed. And it is still my job to see this bill through.#
Senate Ways & Means Chair Pia Cayetano holds a giant prescription with health experts during the Sin Tax Coalition’s press conference in the Senate. The coalition had called on other senators to pass the bill seeking to raise taxes on e-cigarettes & alcohol. (Photo: Senate PRIB)

Pia: PH vision should ensure care for people’s eyesight

To fulfill the vision of a sustainable future for all Filipinos, the government should work on ensuring quality and accessible eye care services for citizens that will help them achieve brighter and healthier lives.

 

Thus said Senator Pia S. Cayetano in light of the celebration of World Sight Day (October 10). Held every second Thursday of October, the event seeks to draw global attention to blindness and vision impairment with the goal of preventing them.

 

A known health advocate, Cayetano stressed the need to protect the eyesight of all Filipinos – from young children to senior citizens. She added that poor vision and avoidable blindness remain an underreported public health issue in the country.

 

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) in 2017 showed that more than two million people nationwide were blind or suffering from poor vision, with an estimated 332,150 Filipinos bilaterally blind, and 2.179 million with bilateral low vision.

 

The senator, for her part, stressed that the passage of a new law establishing a national vision screening program for kindergarten pupils could help turn the situation around.

 

It was Cayetano who authored and sponsored Republic Act 11358, or the ‘National Vision Screening Act,’ which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year.

 

The new law seeks to establish a National Vision Screening Program (NVSP) for young pupils under the Department of Education (DepEd).

 

The senator said early detection of eye problems is crucial in ensuring immediate intervention and proper treatment for children suffering from early vision impairments.

 

“Ensuring the full well-being of our children is the first step to enable them to reach their full potential and grow up as our partners in attaining sustainable growth and development,”  she said.

 

Moreover, the law also paves the way for the fulfillment of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), added Cayetano, who chairs the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

 

Goal 3 of the United Nations’ SDGs calls on nations to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. This includes the provision of essential services based on tracer interventions like vision screening.

 

In 2016, Cayetano partnered with the Taguig city government and the University of the Philippines-Manila Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) to spearhead a pilot vision screening test for kindergarten pupils in the city.

 

150 pupils aged five to six underwent a simple vision-screening test, about 15 of whom were found to have vision problems, and in turn, given immediate and proper treatment. #

Pia wants stronger implementation of Mental Health Act

“If we could save one life just by listening, then by all means, we should be all ears.”

Senator Pia S. Cayetano had this message for the entire Filipino community on the observance of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, September 10.

Cayetano said the annual event sheds light on the need to address high suicide rates across the globe by providing mental health patients with better support and reinforcement. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. The Philippines in particular has one of the highest cases of depression in Southeast Asia, affecting more than three million Filipinos. 

Moreover, the WHO said suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years.

“We have to step up our policies on suicide prevention if we want to protect our youth and guarantee a better future for them. Sometimes all it really takes to save a life is to listen and offer them support,” the senator said. 

Cayetano pointed out that in previous years, mental health conditions such as depression were not even covered by our health insurance system. 

“Now, we actually have a stronger law on mental health. I hope this boosts our efforts in taking care of our people’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being,” added Cayetano, who authored Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act of 2019.

RA 11036 mandates the establishment of a more holistic approach to mental healthcare in the country by incorporating comprehensive mental health services into the Philippine national health system. 

Cayetano stressed that a vital component of the law is ensuring that patients suffering from mental illnesses will have proper access to helplines and support groups that can help them cope with their conditions. 

“It’s so important for us to continue taking action in responding to the needs of Filipinos in mental health crises. We can do this by giving them a safe space where they can get proper information and counselling, and more importantly, where they can feel that they are not alone,” she said.

The senator then called on the Department of Health (DOH) to make sure that their suicide prevention hotlines are always available for those who need help. 

The DOH recently launched its own National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) crisis hotline, which can be reached at 0917 899 8727 (USAP) and 989 8727 (USAP) operated 24/7. 

“I believe that in every call received by these ‘USAP’ hotlines, one person’s life can be saved. And so I encourage our health department to make sure that such initiative is sustainable,” Cayetano said. #

Sen. Pia S. Cayetano: The World Suicide Prevention Day sheds light on the need to provide mental health patients with better support and reinforcement.

Pia on e-cigarettes: ‘Less harmful’ does not mean ‘safe’

If there was one clear takeaway from the Senate’s latest committee hearing on proposals to raise ‘sin’ taxes, it’s that electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are “definitely” not safe and could pose risks to people’s health, Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Pia S. Cayetano asserted. 

The panel on Thursday (September 5) conducted its third public hearing on proposals to increase excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products under Package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or CTRP. 

The hearing, which focused on e-cigarettes, invited officials from industry, who expounded on the position that heated tobacco products (HTPs) and vape products are “less harmful” than conventional cigarettes. 

On the other side, various health experts, including officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), refuted industry claims, saying there is not enough evidence to prove that e-cigs are indeed safer for human health. 

WHO’s Country Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (OIC), even likened using conventional cigarettes to jumping off a 10-storey building, whereas using e-cigarettes would be like jumping off a six-storey building. Either way, she said, the use of such products is “inherently toxic.” 

Both sides cited different studies and experiences from other countries, such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, where e-cigarettes have been commercially available longer than in the Philippines, and where extensive studies have been conducted on the impact of these products on people’s health. 

“One thing that I am prepared to say now is, [there’s no truth to such claims that e-cigarettes are safe]. Para sabihin mong less harmful, well, then what is the degree of harm that is acceptable?” Cayetano stressed.

Summing up the discussions after the hearing in a briefing with media members, the senator added that despite the authorization granted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) to e-cigarette companies to market and sell e-cigs in the US, the latter were still not authorized by the regulatory agency to claim that their products are a “safer alternative” to conventional cigarettes. 

“There is no statement from the (US) FDA that it is safe. So let’s be clear about that. Nililinlang naman natin ang mga tao kapag sinasabi nating safe. Pati ang WHO, walang sinabi na safe ‘yan,” Cayetano said. 

Furthermore, the senator said one of the primary objectives in raising taxes on these products is to make sure that they don’t become readily accessible to children and young people, whom she said are the most vulnerable to e-cigarette use. 

“Suddenly, this tool that the industry is trying to promote as an alternative to smoking is now being taken up by young people who do not even smoke,” Cayetano pointed out during the hearing.

“I would like to hear from the industry how they intend to market their products, because I saw very disturbing modes of marketing [targeting the youth],” she added. 

The Ways and Means Committee is set to continue discussions on the tax measures on Wednesday (September 11). #

Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano on taxing e-cigarettes as ‘sin’ products: You may claim that these are ‘less harmful’ but this is not equivalent to being ‘safe.’

Pia wants ‘alcopops’ pulled out of store shelves

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has called the attention of distributors and sellers of flavored alcoholic drinks called “alcopops” for using unethical and illegal marketing schemes to entice young Filipinos to buy their products. 
Alcopops are flavored alcoholic beverages, a variety of which is packed in colorful foil pouches similar to juice beverages.
“I was very bothered when I found out about it. It’s packaged in a very colorful packaging that is very attractive to kids,” Cayetano stressed during the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s organizational meeting on Thursday (August 15).
During the hearing, the Department of Finance (DOF) presented an overview of the remaining tax packages under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), among which is the proposed increase in the excise tax on alcohol products.
“I accepted the chairmanship of the Committee on Ways and Means precisely to be able to see through the delivery of public services that I’ve always dedicated my time and energy [to],” said Cayetano, who chairs the panel. 
The senator particularly expressed concern over the increasing consumption of alcopops among Filipinos. DOF figures show that Filipinos spent P69 million for alcopops in 2018, more than twice higher than the P30 million consumed in 2017. 
A particular brand of alcopops is currently being sold at P25 per 200 ml pack and has an alcohol content of 7 percent. Under the current tax rates, its total excise tax is only P1.30 per pack.  The DOF is proposing to increase its tax rate to P8.00 per pack. 
Cayetano for her part decried the easy access of young children to the alcoholic drinks, which are being sold alongside regular non-alcoholic drinks in groceries and even online. Apart from this, the colorful packaging also makes it appealing to minors. 
As such, the senator called for the products to be pulled out of store counters and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the packaging, distribution, and sale of such alcoholic mix beverages. 
“We’re trying to sell a product that has 7 percent alcohol and is packaged to make it very attractive to children. It is unethical and unlawful,” she said. 
“Nananawagan ako sa mga matitino at maaayos na businessmen. Siguro naman sa sarili niyong anak, hindi niyo ipapainom ‘yan,” she further stressed.
The senator, who earlier fought for the passage of the Sin Tax Reform Act of 2012, noted that a similar issue was raised in the Senate about how the marketing schemes of certain tobacco companies enticed the youth to try cigarettes. #

Cayetano decried the easy access of young children to alcopops, which are being sold alongside regular non-alcoholic drinks in groceries and even online.

Pia: Listen to experts on Dengvaxia

“Let’s listen to the experts.”

This is what Senator Pia S. Cayetano had to say about recent calls to revive the Dengvaxia vaccine following the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a dengue epidemic throughout the country.

In a television interview on Friday (August 9), Cayetano said she agreed with President Rodrigo Duterte’s position to wait for the advice of local health experts before considering using the vaccine again in the Philippines. 

“This is a technical and scientific matter that should be left to the health experts. The President [already] said he’s listening to them, so let’s give this time,” she asserted.

“Sana po huwag muna tayong mag-comment… Kasi litong-lito na ang mga tao,” the senator appealed. 

Cayetano said while the issue on Dengvaxia’s revival is yet to be decided on by public health specialists, government officials should focus on discussing policies that will provide Filipino families better access to health services.  

“Sana po ang mga politicians, we just discuss policies. Our policy is we want to ensure the safety of the Filipino people. We want to ensure that they have access to [appropriate healthcare services]. The poor should also have access to whatever is available to the rich,” she stressed. 

In particular, Cayetano said proper attention should be given on addressing the problem of stunted growth among Filipino kids. 

The DOH stated that one in three children in the country remains stunted, a figure which has not improved in the last 15 years. 

“We must go back to the health basics. Those should be the concerns that we have. That’s part of our job, to ensure that the poorest of the poor are covered [by our health budget] and that these children become healthier,” she noted.

“We need to address this because this will help our children fight [dengue]. When they are malnourished or do not have the proper vaccinations, they are more susceptible to diseases,” she added. 

The principal author of the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act and several other public health laws, Cayetano has filed bills in the Senate seeking to improve health services for Filipinos, including measures that seek to provide one midwife in every barangay; establish specialty centers in DOH hospitals and medical centers; institute the utilization and promotion of Folic Acid food fortification and supplementation; and the Build, Build, Build counterpart program for public health facilities.

The senator’s initiatives are in line with the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3 of the SDGs, which urges nations to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. #

Senator Pia Cayetano interviewed on CNN’s The Source: “We must go back to the health basics.”

Pia backs better health promotion vs outbreaks

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Wednesday (August 7) urged the health department to take advantage of available resources to strengthen its information drive on the importance of government’s expanded program on immunization (EPI).

The senator said this during the first public hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and amid the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a national dengue epidemic in the country. 

Cayetano lamented that the recent outbreak of diseases in the country was caused by the decline in people’s confidence in vaccines. 

“I had the opportunity to talk to barangay health workers all over the country. And the biggest problem [they mentioned] is that the mothers were scared. [They] refused to have their children vaccinated with measles and many other vaccines because of the [Dengvaxia scare],” she said.

The principal author and sponsor of the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (RA 10152), Cayetano stressed the need to properly inform Filipino families about the importance of vaccination in saving their children’s lives. 

To help restore people’s trust in vaccines, she urged the DOH and other concerned agencies to find more creative and aggressive ways in promoting the government’s immunization program. 

“We have a budget through the Sin Tax Reform Law (RA 10351), which we passed years ago for health promotion. I may not have seen it, but I would like to see really exciting and engaging infomercials, cartoons, or even dramas, that would help mothers appreciate the importance of vaccination,” Cayetano said.

“We passed the law precisely because we wanted to ensure that the budget moving forward would include [sufficient funds] for vaccinations… The budget for health promotions is there, let’s really make this engaging,” she added.

‘Improving children’s health increases chances vs dengue, other ailments’

Meanwhile, Cayetano said another critical part of preventing outbreaks like dengue fever in the country is for the government to improve Filipino children’s health and nutrition.

“At the end of the day it is the immune system [that needs to be strong]. The first thing we can do is to make sure our children are healthy enough,” the senator said. 

The DOH pointed out during the committee hearing that one in three Filipino children remains stunted. The department said this figure has not improved in the last 15 years.

“To bring up the level of health of every child is the first thing we can do to help them fight the [dengue] battle. That is our long-term solution. We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can make our children healthier with more resources,” Cayetano stressed.

The senator then called for a strengthened implementation of the government’s programs on children’s health and nutrition, which she said also forms part of the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. 

The DOH for its part reminded the public to follow the “4S strategy” against dengue, which stands for “search and destroy” mosquito-breeding sites, “self-protection measures” like wearing covered clothes and using mosquito repellent, “seek early consultation”, and “support fogging/spraying” in hotspot areas. #

Senator Pia Cayetano: We can’t wipe out dengue in a day or in a year. But we can protect our children with more resources poured into health promotion.

Bill filed to accelerate health infrastructure program

As the Philippine economy continues to expand, so does the demand for better public health services from the growing urban and rural population. To meet this increasing need, Senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed the “Priority Health Infrastructure Act.”

Known also as the ‘Build, Build, Build for Health’ Bill, the measure aims to create a comprehensive and sustainable approach to health infrastructure over the next five years. 

The proposal takes off from the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ Program for public works and is anchored on the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 to accelerate human capital development through quality health care services. 

The measure is also expected to put the Philippines on track in attaining its target to provide essential health care for all by 2030 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The Department of Health (DOH) shall be assigned to determine priority health infrastructure needs of government hospitals all over the country to be integrated in a five-year plan. An annual budget of P10 billion is allocated for the improvement of health facilities in priority areas.

As the government has made considerable progress to improve health care in the past years, most notably with the passage of the Universal Health Care Act, serious challenges remain in the absorptive capacity of the nation’s public health system, Cayetano stressed. Twice as many households seek health care in public health facilities compared to private health facilities.

“To most effectively protect and promote the health of the population, the nation’s entire governmental public health infrastructure must be revitalized and strengthened. This will require political and financial support over time,” Cayetano said on the necessity of the bill’s passage.

For the 18th Congress, the senator has filed related measures on health care, including the bill establishing Specialty Centers in DOH Hospitals and Medical Centers, as well as the bill mandating the appointment of at least one midwife for every barangay.

The former chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Cayetano led the passage of several landmark laws to enhance public health services. 

Among these are the Mental Health Act (RA 11036), the National Health Insurance Act (RA 10606), the Philippine National Health Research System Act (RA 10532), the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act (RA 10512), and the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RA 10354). #

File photo: Then Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano visits mothers at the Maternity Ward of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu. (February 2019)