*Statement of Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano at the Sin Tax Coalition press conference (November 4, 2019).
Good afternoon, everyone. I am happy to see all of you, and I am very grateful for everyone’s support.
The job of seeing through, shepherding the sin tax is an exciting journey. It’s actually more exciting than I expected. And that’s because of all the support that many of you have shown.
I always visualize it as like a numbers job. But actually, from the day I started, because of the passion and commitment that I’ve seen in so many of you, from the Department of Finance, Department of Health, the advocates, and all the supporters, it’s really not about numbers. It’s really about lives, it’s about personal stories, it’s about changing lives. And the work that we do will really pave the way for a safer future for our children.
During the last few weeks, we had no session. So I took the opportunity to visit the experts in WHO in Geneva, I also spoke to the Ministry of Health in Denmark, the Ministry of Health in the UK, and I also met with the Public Health England Group, who were actually proponents of e-cigs.
So I’d like to believe that from knowing nothing about e-cigarettes, little by little, I am gaining more knowledge. I don’t believe anyone is born an expert, but over a period of time, we can all develop this kind of expertise and so, I will never claim to be able to handle this on my own, but at least I’d be able to contribute to the discussions among the experts. So I’d be happy to share my knowledge in the days to come.
Suffice it to say, the team of experts that we have in the Philippines provided me with all the information that I needed. I cannot really say I have learned anything new and earthshaking. It simply reinforced the information that I already had. And it’s good to know because I believe that my job is always to keep an open mind. If 10 years from now, it turns out a product that started as an e-cigarette mutated into something that is very safe, that has no detrimental effect, or addictive effect, I believe I should have an open mind in exploring what that product will be in the future.
So I continue to sit at this job with that kind of an open mind, but with the commitment that number one, this is a joint effort between the Department of Finance and Department of Health. And I am conscious of the need to balance the effects of taxation and our interest as healthcare advocates.
I always take the opportunity to say that I have no degree or training in health care. My training or background is [I’m] a graduate of economics and law. But on that note, I’ve spent more than 10 years of my life working with doctors and health professionals with my own advocacy on health care. So, I used that background when I entered this Committee on Ways and Means and continue to find that sweet spot, that balance.
I understand that those from the industries and even some of our colleagues find the rates that we are proposing on a high end, but we stand by those rates. And I am very happy that the Secretary of Finance has supported the rates that I came up with along with the team headed by Usec. Karl Chua.
I stand by this because I tend to always look at what’s happening around us globally. And I will never compare… I’d like to be as reasonable as possible. And I am always mindful that we cannot do what certain developed countries are doing. So when I compare, I look at neighboring countries, and I look at the region, and I see that despite the rates that we were looking at, which was already an increase, we still have one of the lowest taxation rates in the region.
Then I said, it’s our moral duty to make taxation an integral part of this comprehensive package. Because otherwise, sorry to put it this way, but parang naglolokohan lang tayo. If we want taxation to be part of a comprehensive package, then it should be a meaningful kind of taxation. Not the kind of taxation na, “sige na para lang masabing meron.”
I’ve never worked that way and will never be comfortable proposing a measure just for the sake of it. So at the start of session, I am starting it excited and I would really like to address the concerns of my colleagues. I have been talking to them on the side during session, during the breaks. I am looking forward to them putting on record their concerns about sin tax and addressing it. I think today, we’re going to start with Senator [Francis] Tolentino. He actually was with me in our WHO conference, so we hope to put on record a very exciting discussion.
So again, thank you very much to everyone. #