Privilege speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano on the lapsing of the Vape Bill into law
Thank you, Mr. President. It’s good to see you up there, Mr. President, far away from us but I know your heart is here on the floor, especially when I deliver this speech. Thank you, with the permission of the body.
As my colleagues who have been with me in the 18th Congress know, this matter is very close to my heart, and I hope in the opening of the 19th Congress, it will also be close to your hearts.
Mr. President, I received the news just a few hours ago that the Vape Bill has just lapsed into law.
Today the tobacco industry rejoices with the passage of this law. Naloko na naman nila ang taumbayang Pilipino. It is shocking, to say the least, how differently other countries deal with this. In the 18th Congress, we debated and put on record that some countries actually banned the use of e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and vapes.
In the United States (US), where it is allowed, the US FDA had actually placed Juul’s application for its electronic cigarettes under “additional review.” Pag-aaralan pa bago man lang matikman ng mga kabataan nila. Aralin daw muna nila ng sigurado. They did this in order to ensure that the e-cigarettes benefit public health. Hindi lang yung ‘wag nakakasama, pero may benepisyo. Eh tayo? Anong ginawa natin? I’ll get to that in a few minutes. In fact in the US, 55,000 flavors were rejected by the US FDA kasi nga walang proven health benefits.
And here we are in this country, we passed a bill that has lapsed into law that will not even, hindi man lang dadaan sa gate ng FDA, doon na lang daw sa DTI. Isipin niyo, mga kasama, ako may anak, 12 years old, binilang ko, pagdating niya ng last year ng senior high, he will be 18. Target na siya ng mga e-cigarette and vape companies, bakit nangyari yun? Kasi pinasa ng 18th Congress ang bill na yan.
You know, dear colleagues, I felt a glimmer of hope during the SONA yesterday, when the President repeatedly emphasized that science will be a cornerstone of his administration’s programs, in agriculture, health and education. I thought this meant that the Vape Bill was vetoed, because the science clearly tells us just how harmful these products are. Medical experts have repeatedly said that the Vape Bill is masquerading as a health measure. What it does is it deregulates, it does not regulate. It is harm introduction, not harm reduction.
To say that I am disappointed in the 18th Congress that passed the bill, and with the President for not vetoing it, will not do justice to the millions of lives that will be put in harm’s way because of the Vape Law.
I will divide the discussion into two parts: (1) Procedural and (2) Substantive.
(1) On the procedural issue. How did we get here? Listen carefully, dear colleagues, because this is very interesting, I promise you.
The Vape Bill was passed by both Houses after bicam on January 26, 2022. For those who were running for reelection tandaan niyo yan, kasi a few days na lang, magbe-break na, mangangampanya na kayo. January 26.
As the campaign went on, I was monitoring, wondering, kailan kaya yan mata-transmit sa Malacanang? Hindi ko dini-deny, panay ang padala ko ng prayers, spiritual prayers to the President na i-veto niya yan. Nagtataka ako March, wala pa, sige lang baka documentation, papers. April wala pa rin. May wala pa rin. Kalagitnaan ng June wala pa rin hindi pa rin nata-transmit sa Malacanang. Ano na nangyari? Five months passed before that bill was transmitted to Malacanang. Five months.
By comparison, dear colleagues, yung ibang bill, Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act was transmitted to the Office of the President in a little more than a month; Foundling Recognition and Protection Act – very close to the heart of my companera over there, Sen. Risa and Sen. Grace – it was transmitted to the Office of the President in two months; and the Anti-Trafficking Act – again a bill of our colleague Sen. Risa – was transmitted in three months. Ito, five months.
Bakit kaya itong bill natengga nang ganito? Fina-follow up ko, nasa desk daw ng ating high officials of Congress. Ano kaya ang inantay nila? Is it because nabalitaan nila na balak i-veto ni Presidente? Is it because ang balita is kinaladkad pa doon sa meeting kay Presidente ang mga high officials ng tobacco company para makiusap pero ang sagot ni Presidente, kwinento niya ang kanyang personal health condition na galing daw sa tobacco, clearly indicating na balak niyang i-veto.
Hindi ko alam. Kwento-kwento lang naman. So ito tayo, five months, barely three days, just because the weekend na matatapos ang term ni President Duterte, saka pinadala. This poses a lot of questions, dear colleagues. Tama ba yun that the members of the 18th Congress who passed the bill, natapos na yung term nila, natapos na rin ang term ng Presidente, na kung sino dapat magdesisyon kung ivi-veto niya yun o magla-lapse into law o kung anuman ang balak niyang gawin, dinelay para makarating sa next president? That is a legal quandary, my dear colleagues. And for such an important issue, again, I wash my hands. I refuse to be part of this historical moment where nagawa ito ng 18th Congress.
(2) I move on now to the substantial issues.
For the information of the newly elected and comebacking members of Congress, the previous law, Republic Act No. 11467, or the “Sin Tax Reform Act of 2020”, was enacted into law on January 22, 2020.
So, timeline, nag-start ang 18th Congress July ng 2019. By December, napasa natin ang Sin Tax Law. Within how many months, kasi priority revenue measure yun. Doon nagkaroon ng debate, Sen. Tol [Tolentino] was actually a proponent of banning. Pero we debated it and you know, nadala pa natin sa diskusyon kung naaalala niyo, well hindi naman natin panahon yun, wala na siguro umabot dito noon, sa US yung prohibition, sabi, huwag natin i-ban, i-regulate natin. So that decision was made to regulate sin products, including vapes, in the Sin Tax Law. And to regulate it, to be able to collect tax money, we wanted to be sure na protected din ang mga tao. So we passed three important provisions in that Sin Tax Law.
Number one, ang dapat mag-regulate is FDA, Food and Drug Authority. Siya talaga ang may trabaho niyan.
And we also said na dapat ang may access niyan aged 21. Kasi all over the world, ang move pati sa sigarilyo, papunta na sa 21. Do you know I think it’s Australia… they passed a law where if you were born this year, you will never touch a cigarette in your life, kahit 18 years old ka na. Ganun katindi ang tobacco regulation in other countries.
Anyway, I digress. The third regulation was only plain tobacco and plain menthol are allowed.
My brother, Sen. Alan Cayetano, was the Speaker in the House when this bill was passed. When he was no longer Speaker, the House immediately passed the Vape Bill and after, in the Senate, my Vape Bill and a number of other vape bills which were pending in the Committee on Health were transferred to the Committee on Trade, and it created a subcommittee, which was chaired by Sen. Recto. And they proceeded to discuss this measure as if it was a trade measure, which was clearly on the record, secondary ang health. Who cares kung mamatay ang mga bata, basta yung daw gustong tumigil manigarilyo, may access sila. Well guess what? We don’t need a Vape Bill para magka-access. Open your phones, sa mga may Gcash, yan ang unang unang magpa-pop up. Available po ang ecigs, HTPs, at lahat ng variations ng vapes without a Vape Bill.
So to say na kailangan ng Vape Bill para yung gustong tumigil manigarilyo, may access, that’s a lie. Gusto nila ng Vape Bill because gusto nilang tanggalin yung tatlong provision na sinabi ko sa inyo. At yun na nga ang nangyari. Pinasa ng 18th Congress under my objections, again and again and again, lowering the age of access to 18, making the DTI responsible for this harmful product, and opening the flavors to more and more flavors, which as shown in other countries, is the number one attraction to young people, more flavors.
The FDA law is clear. It regulates all things that may have an effect on health. Dear colleagues, I was the Chairman of the Committee on Health when we passed the FDA Law in 2009. The provision of the FDA Law states health products means food, drugs, cosmetics, devices, biologicals, vaccines, in-vitro diagnostic reagents and household/urban hazardous substances and/or a combination of and/or a derivative thereof. It shall also refer to products that may have an effect on health. May effect ba sa health ang vapes? Meron. The proponents claim it has a good effect, better daw than cigarettes. Eh di may effect pa rin, di ba? But the 18th Congress decided hindi siya health product, ilagay natin yan sa DTI.
This industry, dear colleagues, is slimy. They have a track record of avoiding regulation. In 2009, we passed the FDA law that I just mentioned, which was intended to cover tobacco products. Sabi nga, all products that have an effect on health.
When the FDA issued regulations covering cigarette products, pina-TRO ng tobacco industry yan. Pinangununahan ng Philippine Tobacco Institute (members include Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation). Ilang taon yan sa korte kasi ayaw nila magpa-regulate. Excluded daw sila, special sila. Do not regulate tobacco in the Philippines para lahat ng Pilipino, ma-addict sa sigarilyo at mamatay sa lung cancer. Yan ang position ng tobacco industry, including PH Tobacco Institute. But guess what? A few weeks ago, 13 years after I passed that law, which a few of you here, of course Loren was here, a few others, my batchmate, Sen. Lito, Sen. Jinggoy, Sen. Bong, among others. When we passed that law, it’s been 13 years, finally the Supreme Court said, “covered ang tobacco.” It’s a victory. Very clear. The Supreme Court said, tobacco products are “undoubtedly ‘health products’ within the definition under Republic Act No. 9711, or the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, due to their harmful effects on health. As to the health aspect, tobacco products fall under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration.”
Of course, the tobacco industry files a reconsideration, so pending pa rin yan. Tama ba yun, tama ba yun? Let’s decide, dear colleagues. Because we can put an end to this now.
Now let me ask you, if we can allow a product that clearly has effects on health, whether harmful, not so harmful, very harmful, you decide, we’re not the experts. What’s next? Where will the next lobby come from, dear colleagues?
As I continue my speech, I will put here on my podium things that are on my table and handbag. [Note: Senator Pia takes out different consumer products] Yung alcohol na galing sa ating Senate Secretariat. Ang aking Nivea sunblock for my lips, kasi as we age we get sunspots, and I have a sunspot on my lip that hopefully is not harmful, it is just hopefully cosmetically unpleasant; ang aking new discovery, 24 hours stay-on lipstick; mints; eye shadow; and compact powder. Lahat ito laman ng bag ko. What’s next? Where will the next lobby come from? Sino diyan ngayon magsasabi na wag niyo kami i-regulate, DTI na lang? Kasi kahit ipahid yan sa mata ko, di bale nang mabulag ka, I am now passing a basket of other products, and I want you, dear colleagues, to take time to look at. Because this is what we are allowing to happen in our country. Pagbigyan niyo yung [Senate paige] na pinapakita nila sa inyo yan, because I want this to be visually in your head. This is what we are allowing to happen.
Paano contact lenses, may I see a show of hands, sino ang naka-contact lenses dito? Meron ba? Alam niyo, nauso ang colored contacts, diba? Paano kapag sinabing wag na kasi yung arguments that I heard, mahirap kausap yung FDA, wag na ilagay sa FDA. Ganun? Eh di palitan niyo ang FDA head kung mahirap kausap. Huwag niyo ilipat sa DTI, that’s not their job. Now I ask you, all of you have access to the internet, on your cell phones, laptops, Ipads, whatever, check out the mandate of DTI, saan diyan nakalagay na they are in charge of health?
Now let me take you on a walk through memory lane. I was a new lawyer when I started my job in Castillo, Laman Tan, Pantaleon law offices, and one of our clients was Pepsi, and there was this 349 fiasco, if you remember… 349 was this promo na kapag nakita mo sa tansan ang promo, you’re gonna win something. Eh nagkamali kasi parang millions of people got a 349 tansan, which entitled them to millions of pesos, and there was a case. And you go to DTI, because DTI’s mandate is to settle these cases. So I go to DTI to look at these claims because kliyente nga namin. But guess what? Meron din claims against soft drinks… may claims kasi pag-inom nila, may lumulutang, may ipis, that happens, whatever the brand is. The DTI [inaudible] go to FDA. Pero ngayon sa vapes, tayo, Congress, said, ikaw na bahala DTI, wala na kaming pakialam sa healthcare ng mga kabataan.
Hay nako, buti na lang athlete ako kasi otherwise, nag-hyperventilate na ako. You know what, dear colleagues, I look at my dear colleague here, he has a baby. Paano kung ang next na target nila, baby wipes, diapers, rash cream, paano? Sabihin na wag na, tagal magpa-approve sa FDA, DTI na lang yan. Ganun? Oh yung pinass on ko sa inyo, insect repellant, dengue, wag na FDA. Tagal eh. Yun lang naman ang sinagot niyo sa akin, antagal. Hirap kausap.
Sabi niyo pa tumanggap ng pera, eh tumatanggap talaga ng pera yan galing sa WHO, the recognized agencies of WHO to protect healthcare. Alam niyo ba, one of the first things I did when I was a senator was defending my bill on expanded immunization for children. Why? Because the grant of UNICEF on hepatitis vaccines was coming to an end. Kapag tapos na ang grant nila, kasi binibigay nila sa poorest of the poor, eh hindi na tayo poorest of the poor so binibigay nila sa ibang bansa. So kapag hindi napondohan yun sa health budget, mawawala na ang vaccination ng hepa, so I had to put it in a law. Tagal bago pumasa ang law, pero because we took it up on the floor, DOH started budgeting for it. Why do I mention that? Well I mention that because ganun din yun, galing din sa ibang agency ang pera na yun, to stop hepatitis. Ito, to stop a preventable sickness like lung disease and so many other complications that come from tobacco and vapes, make no mistake, also have those harmful ingredients.
I am about to end. To the new members of the Senate… and to all of us, I hope you remember that every decision we make in every bill will change the lives of Filipinos for better or for worse. Your vote matters.
Putting at risk the health of our people and of future generations through this law will haunt our collective conscience down the road. When we wake up to a generation addicted to vapes, that’s on the 18th Congress that passed the Vape Bill, and on this administration that allowed it to pass.
I have an intern, she’s 17 years old. Her friends are all vaping. That, dear colleagues, is the situation. Are you gonna listen to the proponents of vape that said, at least hindi sila naninigarilyo. My dears, kapag may addict ba sa pamilya mo, sasabihin mo, at least hindi heroin, hindi sinasaksak, nilalaklak lang. Ganun? No, if you care about health, you care about health. Cigarettes may be here but the dangers imposed by vapes and ecigs is still here. That’s our job – to listen to the science.
And I go back to the SONA, science daw. And I am sad because I want to support this administration. The success of this administration is the success of the Filipino people. I wrote to the DTI, the Department of Education, the Department of Finance, because the former DOF supported this. It’s not about generating revenue, the revenue is there, in the Sin Tax Law, hindi mababawasan. And I had hoped that we would get the support of these agencies, to veto this bill. The usual supporters of course came forward, DOH, FDA, and the 60 health organizations that know their business. They supported the veto of this measure.
I am heartened to hear our new Senate President says in the earlier discussion with Sen. Loren, who brought up the topic of nuclear, Sen. Tol I think, our Senate President said that he had a different view then changed his mind, I am not commenting on nuclear because I have to admit, I will also study it further, but I am happy because that is our job to study. It is not an embarrassment to change your mind. In fact, I pride myself, this may sound weird, in being humble, because I believe that my job is to always listen to contrary opinions and be persuaded by science. So it is no harm, and that is something that we can still do on the road.
So that is our task. We are called to study, to be willing to change our position when the science and evidence call for it. My heart is broken but my spirit is not. I will never stop fighting for the health and well-being of the Filipinos, even against strong lobbies of industries and policymakers who choose to support their interests over the Filipino people. Thank you, Mr. President. #