Our fight for health continues

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
•Principal co-sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair
•Principal sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means chair

Good evening, warm greetings to all of you. Of course, [former health secretary Enrique Ona], it’s so nice to see you. Everyone here. Hindi ko na kayo iisa-isahin. My partner in crime, my partner in healthcare, Sen. JV [Ejercito]. It’s so hard to work without partners. I can’t mention all of you but truly I am very happy to be here.

Of course, [Dr. Tony Dans], during the pandemic. Kaibigan ko si Tony because ang youngest sister niya is my teammate in UP Volleyball. Hindi kami close, yung kapatid niya ang close ko, pero naging close na kami dahil sa pandemic because of all the things that we had to discuss.

Anyway, I just have a few minutes, it’s very difficult for me to decide what to cut. Well, my journey started maybe when I became a senator in 2004. But, just a raise of hands, who was not part of this before 2012? Who wasn’t around during 2012? Because ia-eye-to-eye ko kayo, para marinig niyo yung kwento. Yun lang naman yun.

Okay, so there are a handful of people here who don’t know the journey and I’m speaking to the choir to those, many of you, who have been around and have heard it, but bear with me.

So in 2012 was my first major victory with a health bill that was, I can’t think of any other word, I’m sorry for the foreigners, but the Filipino word is “masalimuot.” It was so deep, so heavy, so intricate. It was so difficult, right? Masalimuot. It was very difficult to pass the [Sin Tax Law of 2012]. I mean, by then, I’ve been a senator for a few years, I have passed many other bills, but this was a difficult bill.

And I won’t go into details, but I told Tony that these stories have to be told. The committee report that came out for this 2012 Sin Tax Bill was rubbish. And this is me na hindi nagmumura in public. It was rubbish. And so then Senate President Franklin Drilon, had to…when you’re Senate President, you stay on the…JV, anong tawag dun kapag nandoon ka sa taas? Podium. [Senate President Drilon] had to go down and basically chair this committee because he had to change the committee report [which] was rubbish. It was a joke. And the thing is, what you have to understand is it is so easy to fool people if you will simply say, you raised taxes for [public] health. Everybody who loves health, “Oh, thank you ang bait niyo.” But it’s a joke. They raised it at such an amount that was not even up to par with inflation.

And this happened again, by the way, when I was in the House, right? When I was in the House, they passed the – tumatawa si JV – he was in the Senate, I was in the House, they passed a bill that increased the taxes on tobacco. It was a joke. I stood up and said, excuse me…kasi sa House sa dami naman ng tao, they really cannot accommodate everyone to speak. And I felt like I was a dead grasshopper about to be eaten by a swarm of ants, red angry ants. When I stood up, parang, “Sino ka to stand up when we’re about to pass this bill?” I’m talking about the tax bill… I was in the House between 2016, 17, 18. So somewhere there, around that time. And a swarm of ants telling me that I had no right to talk about this bill. But in fact, I had a right because that was an amendment to the 2012 Sin Tax Bill. And so I said my piece and what else could I do, I got outvoted, okay?

So 2012, I would say my journey started. But while I was writing my notes in the car, I had to tell myself that, “you know what, it’s not correct for me to say that journey started…” I’m simply saying I passed that difficult bill.

My journey started when I was a child. My mom is alive, she’s a living angel, kind-hearted, she’s a teacher, may puso ng isang teacher. My dad was very strict, he did not smoke and did not drink, and he walked the talk. So many kids grew up in an environment where they are told not to do one thing, and yet the people around them are all doing those things. I was blessed to be brought up in a home na kung bawal yan, bawal din sa parents ko. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke. So unless my brothers decide to take up smoking in their 40’s and 50’s, wala talagang naninigarilyo sa amin. And that is because of the family we were raised in. So that journey started then.

And this is the message I want everyone to hear who has children, grandchildren, pamangkins – it starts with the environment.

So here I am, as you know, I was a passionate runner, triathlete. I still run but I have a new passion, it’s called padel, P-A-D-E-L. You can look it up, that’s my new sport. I would run all over the country, the races would start at 4 AM, 5 AM, so as daylight breaks, people would come out of the house. This is all over the country, wherever. And then people would come out of the house and there’s going to be a man holding a baby, siguro ang asawa niya nagluluto. He’s holding a baby and holding a cigarette. I’ve seen that so often and that smoke is going to this baby’s face. And I’m running, here I am, I have that privilege of being healthy. Hindi ako kinarga na may sigarilyo sa mukha ko. Not only that, I was told not to smoke and yet here, there are children, they can’t even breathe in their own homes.

So that’s a privilege. A privilege I appreciate and I hope we can create for more people. And we have. We have created that. Why? Because my daughters who just graduated the last few years, one during the pandemic, the other, two years before the pandemic. All of them and their friends, they don’t smoke. So I am not saying this because, “yay magaling akong parent.” No, it’s not me. My generation of parents, their kids mostly, at least in the environment where these kids were brought up, they don’t smoke.

Alas, comes the new product, the e-cigarettes. Some of them, not my kids, because over my dead body, but no, they’re not interested and they have been educated about the ills of this thing.

So anyway, fast forward, actually my first introduction to sin products was the Graphic Health Warning Bill. We had a photo together [back in 2007] when you [Dra. Maricar Limpin] presented it [draft Graphic Health Warning Bill] to me. So yung mga lumalapit sa akin nagpe-present, magpa-picture na tayo habang nagpe-present di ba? Kasi years from now, it’s so nice to look back to see, wow we documented that.

And then I have these amazing photos with these kids [during the sponsorship of the Graphic Health Warning Bill, first in 2008, when they were still kids, and six years later in 2014, when the kids were already young adults]. Look at them, di ba? Look at them. I should have another picture with that group. Doon na sa plain packaging [bill] sila naman din. Siguro may anak na sila by the time na mapasa natin.

So there’s a deep history in all of this and what I wanted to say was there are stories to be told. So when I mentioned the story about then Senate President Frank Drilon having to take up the defense of a new bill altogether – by the way, he didn’t just take it up – he had to rewrite the whole bill because the bill that was presented to the Senate was a joke. And by the way, for the young people, nag-uumpisa pa lang ang social media noon. So the pressure that was put upon the sponsor of that bill was done through the brick and mortar, regular media, people who, well mostly the doctors, DOH people who said, “Hindi talaga kami papayag dito.” That’s how that happened. And then Sen. Drilon asked me to be the one to review the health aspect as he took care of the taxation aspect. So alam niyo na yan, pumasa na yan [Sin Tax Bill] 2012.

And then, interestingly, when I went back to the Senate after I won my seat in 2019, then Senate President Tito Sotto asked me to be the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. So in the earlier days, when I got involved in Sin Tax, that was because I was the Chairperson of the Committee on Health, and that’s how I ended up working with you and your team, Sec. Ona. So ngayon naman, I was asked to be Committee on Ways and Means [Chairperson]. And I’m a graduate of the UP School of Economics, taxation was very interesting for me, but it wasn’t really my practice, and I’d like to be good at what I do. So I was like, “eh, not so interested.” And then [Speaker Alan Cayetano] separately told me that Sec. Sonny Dominguez really, really wanted to work with me. Talaga? Nakakatuwa naman, di ba? Somebody tells you, somebody you look up to, really, really wants to work with me. Sabi ko, ano ba agenda? Sin Tax. Ay, hindi na ako maka-hindi. Kasi Sin Tax talaga, that’s really the reason I said yes to handling Ways and Means.

And as a mother, I feel very strongly about using the full force of government to help address this crisis. Not just health advocacy, but through using the power of taxation.

So long story short, we did that, we got it done [passage of the Sin Tax Law of 2020]. I was so happy because during the last few days, the final bill.. JV, of course you only heard of this lang by kwento, but naiyakan na kita niyan, di ba, yung mga nangyari? We were so happy because we were able to put in provisions on the [Food and Drug Administration] having the regulatory powers, age 21 [as minimum age of access to vape products], and the limitation of the flavors. Basically, walang flavor, di ba? Can you imagine? We were so happy.

What I want all of you to know is this, you see me and JV here, we are passionate health advocates. But like you were saying, Tony, many people don’t know the role of legislators here, right? And we appreciate being here. That’s why from Cebu bumalik talaga ako because I want to be part of this celebration.

But this is also what happened. During the bicameral conference [on the Sin Tax Bill], which is where the House and the Senate meet to reconcile, ibang iba ang version namin, mas mataas ang tax namin. Alam niyo yun, mas mataas ang tax namin because pinaglaban ko yun, mas mataas pa ang version ko kaysa sa Department of Finance. And Tito Sonny said, “Wow, okay. Okay sa amin yan.” Anyway, some of my colleagues felt hindi raw ako grounded, lumulutang daw ako, hindi ko raw alam yung nangyayari. Sabi ko, hindi, alam ko ang nangyayari, ayaw niyong taasan ang taxes, gusto niyo diktahan kayo ng industry. We’re one of the lowest pa rin in the region. Hindi ba, yun lang naman ang sa akin. Ina-align ko lang naman.

Anyway, ang kwento ko is this. What happened in the bicam, which was the inclusion of those three provisions I made, these would not be possible without the instructions and the support of my brother, then Speaker Alan Cayetano. You think of me as your health advocate, but my brother is the strategist. Because you know naman how it works, for those of you who worked with the House. Hindi niyo magagawa yan kung wala ang Speaker. Kung diktahan ng Speaker na, “ayaw ko nyan,” wala, hindi mangyayari yun. So I want Alan to get due recognition for this kasi kahit anong sabihin ko, and some of my colleagues, as you know, kayo na lang magbulungan, some of you don’t know, some of my colleagues are downright tobacco supporters. They were with me in the bicam. How could we have made it happen? Because my brother was the Speaker. That’s the simple truth.

So I move on. Barely a few months later, hindi na Speaker si Alan, and guess what? The House, pinaandar na nila yung, ano bang pangalan nun? Vapes, e-cigs regulation bill. Kay Alan, bantay yun. Ako ate di ba? So I can say, “Al, huwag na huwag mong ipapagalaw yan, ha?” So hindi gumalaw yun. Pero noong hindi na siya Speaker, ayun na, naging bill na, pumasa na yan sa House. And then sa Senate, pinabantayan ko, ano nangyari? JV, wala ka kasi doon. Ikaw talaga.

So the rest is history. One of the loneliest days of my life is having to oppose that bill from my house. Kasi I had the opportunity to attend an international conference, the first, this was 2021 November. Tapos ano ang variant na lumabas noon? [referring to the Delta variant] Nasa conference ako, hindi naka-mask ang mga tao doon.. so pagbalik ko, humaba ang quarantine, hindi ako nakapunta sa Senate to defend my position in person. I defended it from my house, without staff, without lawyers in front me. Kaya ko yun, pikit-mata kaya ko yun, alam niyo yun. But iba pa rin ang human warmth, yung support, which you always gave me in person.

It is what it is. Talo. But you know what, there’s a reason for everything. Kumbaga sa basketball, we just lost a quarter, or we lost a game. May second round pa yan, may championship pa yan, di ba? We’re in it for the long run.

So I end with my gratitude to all of you. We all have a role to play. Every role is important. Even my daughters, your kids. When my daughters repost what I post, it means something to me, because that means they understand my fight. And all the little things we each do.

Anyway, I want to end with two quick things. Our representative from the youth mentioned smoke-free something, right? Exactly the same term? Anyway… Philippine smoke-free movement. Thank you. But the largest tobacco companies call their move a ‘smoke-free’ move. So now, every time somebody messages me, “We are advocates for smoke-free,” teka muna, anong klaseng smoke-free kayo? You know? So I think we have to be creative here because that is the panloloko na ginagawa nila. Eh ano pa magagawa natin? Eh di call it out. That cannot be. I don’t know if you can bring that to court. Obviously, in this gathering, we know what we mean. But can you imagine if somebody called me and I didn’t check, and I told my staff, “Sige tulungan niyo yan.” Buti na lang my staff is also aware of this misuse of that term. Deliberately confusing use of that term. So that’s something.

So I had to tell my sister-in-law, [Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano], at the time si [then Mayor Lino Cayetano], “Oy, ingatan niyo yan may lalapit sa inyo, may ibibigay pang ordinance.” You know that, right? May bitbit silang ordinance, ibibigay nila sa munisipyo, sa mga cities, smoke-free. May ganun. On its face naman, kahit alam ng lahat ng konsehal na ito ang advocacy ni Sen. Pia Cayetano, and they are in full support, at a glance, they think it’s a good thing. So we have to be very, very vigilant about it.

So that is, I think, what I wanted to remind everyone of. And finally, in New Zealand, parang every kid who was born a certain year, they will never touch a cigarette. What a dream, di ba? So saan na tayo doon? Every kid will have a chance to use an e-cigarette in this country kasi dadalhin na sa sari-sari store. What’s our narrative? What do we want? So there, that’s the thought I want to leave with everyone, those challenges that we have.

And on that note, again, thank you so much to everyone. Keep up the good work, I am honored to be in the company of each one of you. #

*Speech at the ‘Atin ang Sin Tax: 10 Years of Unity for Health’ (January 20, 2023)

 

Atin Ito Sin Tax
Senator Pia S. Cayetano joins a gathering of health advocates for the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law. With her are Dra. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the FCTC Alliance Philippines or FCAP, and Dr. Yul Dorotheo, executive director, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance or SEATCA. Cayetano co-sponsored the Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair, and the Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means committee chair.
Senator Pia S. Cayetano receives a commendation from the Sin Tax Coalition for her efforts in leading the fight to tax harmful vices and channeling its proceeds to improve the public health system.
Speaking at an event marking the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said the fight for health continues, especially for our children and the youth.
Senator Pia Cayetano with fellow health advocates (L-R): Dra. Maricar Limpin, Dr. Antonio Dans, and Dra. Leonila Dans.

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