Pia to industry: Help educate, not mislead public on sin taxes

Senator Pia S. Cayetano appealed to alcohol industry players  to refrain from misleading the public into thinking that raising ‘sin’ taxes on alcoholic beverages, which would also increase the cost of these products, is detrimental to Filipinos, particularly the poor.  

“When we’re talking about [taxing] sin products, please do not scare the people into thinking that what [the government is] trying to do is harmful to the Filipino people,” the senator stressed in an interview at the Senate.

Cayetano chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee that tackles the proposed measures seeking to increase sin taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products (Package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or CTRP). 

The panel on Thursday (August 29) conducted its second public hearing on Senate Bill No. 383 and House Bill No. 1026 – Increasing the Excise Tax Rates on Alcohol Products and E-Cigarettes.

Industry leaders were given the opportunity to present their position on proposals to raise taxes on alcohol products to augment funds for the government’s universal health care program. A particular argument raised by Distilled Spirits Association of the Phililpines (DSAP) President Olivia Limpe-aw was that hiking taxes on their products would “deprive the poor of their little happiness.”

Cayetano, in response, stressed that the poor deserve a “better kind of happiness” – one which will not cost them their health and their families’ wellbeing. 

“I would often hear, ‘Do not deprive the poor of the things that make them happy,’ supposedly alcohol and cigarettes. That is such a sad, sad fact. Because in the long run, that is what causes them so much misery,” she said. 

“If it is our goal to become an upper-middle income country, can we not leave our poor with this kind of happiness [harmful vices like smoking and excessive drinking]? Can we offer them instead a better kind of happiness, including educating them as to the right choices they could make?” she asked. 

Furthermore, the senator warned industry players against painting a false picture that the proposed sin taxes would lead to job losses.  

More than anything, Cayetano said the country’s alcohol problem causes more damage to millions of Filipino families in terms of related diseases, road crashes, domestic abuse, and crimes, and therefore should be addressed through a variety of public health interventions and social reforms, including taxation. 

“If you’re going to say that there’s X amount of people to lose jobs, then I am going to dig up all the figures to show how many families are affected by the same sin products – how many deaths, how many battered women, how many neglected children,” she emphasized. 

The senator, a staunch health advocate, also had this appeal to members of media: “Ang pakiusap ko sa inyo, don’t use these [one-sided] stories without also including stories about the deaths [caused by alcohol consumption], the children who are violated, and the women who are left homeless or who have to give up food on the table [in favor of spending on alcohol].” 

Meanwhile, the senator said she would continue to keep open mind in considering certain concerns raised by industry during the hearing. The Ways and Means Chair plans to create a technical working group to reconcile the positions of the Finance department with other stakeholders before finalizing the committee report next month. #

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Pia S. Cayetano leads the panel’s second public hearing on sin taxes on alcohol products on Thursday, August 29.
In a media briefing, Senator Pia S. Cayetano rejected the argument raised by an industry representative that raising sin taxes would deprive the poor of their ‘little happiness’ [alcohol and cigarettes]: “That is so sad. Can’t we offer them instead a better kind of happiness?”
The second public hearing of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means gathered alcohol industry leaders, health advocates, civil society groups, and government agencies to deliberate on proposals to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages.

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