Pia seeks targeted subsidies for home and micro businesses

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is pushing for targeted subsidies to help families and individuals who would like to start or expand their home-based and micro businesses as a means of livelihood to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The senator raised the concept of subsidies targeted specifically for women and small  entrepreneurs during the Senate finance committee hearing on the proposed 2022 budget of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

She noted that women’s work at home and their contribution to the economy have long been recognized as “unpaid work.”  This situation has become even more pronounced as women who previously may have had part-time or full-time work outside the home have either lost their jobs, or been forced to stay home because of the pandemic.

“Many mothers have had to stay home to become ‘full time’ teachers to their children who are studying from home. Even older sisters and young women with nieces and nephews are tasked to look after the younger children in the household instead of working outside the home,” she pointed out.

“The good news is, the entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos finds a way to shine.” She expressed delight in  seeing  home-based and online businesses  flourishing in the last two years, ranging from food products to clothing, accessories, and services.

“I am sure everyone [in this hearing]  has  a daughter or ‘pamangkin’  or knows of a teen or young adult who has started a business at home during the pandemic. All of us have exchanged these goodies that we bought from these (budding) entrepreneurs who are making all these brownies, cupcakes, everything,” said the senator.

These opportunities are not available to all, however. The senator cited the situation of young women from lower income families who have entrepreneurial skills, but lack access to seed or startup capital.

“Girls that come from the middle or upper economic classes have easier access to capital and have the opportunity to start a business. But those from the lower income group don’t have that kind of access,” noted Cayetano, who is also the principal author of the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710), the landmark law passed in 2009 advancing the rights and welfare of Filipino women.

“They should have access to capital. So that’s where Secretary Karl, I’d like you to consider this like a targeted and proactive stimulus package,” she told NEDA Secretary Karl Chua, who attended the online hearing.

Giving direct assistance to women-led micro and small businesses is practiced in many developing countries and forms part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 or Gender Equality, according to the senator, who chairs the Senate Committee on the SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking. #

Senator Pia Cayetano
We should help Filipino entrepreneurship rise from this pandemic. – Senator Pia S. Cayetano

Pia: It’s high time we strengthen the law to end child rape

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Monday welcomed the approval on third and final reading of Senate Bill No. 2332, which seeks to amend the Anti-Rape Law to raise the minimum age of sexual consent from the current 12 years old to 16.

“This amendment is long overdue. It’s high time we strengthen the law to end child rape,” said the senator, who is a co-sponsor of the measure.

At the same time, Cayetano lauded the inclusion of the so-called ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘close-in-age’ clause in the approved bill, which will protect the rights of young people who get involved in consensual and non-abusive sexual relations.

“The Romeo and Juliet clause is integral to the bill.” Quoting a statement from the Child Rights Network, the senator explained that the Romeo and Juliet clause “ensures that the law on statutory rape does not criminalize consensual and non-abusive sex between people close in age. This protects young people from being labeled as sex offenders” if they do have consensual sex with their peers.  This position is also supported by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and backed by various civil society groups. #

Senator Pia Cayetano
Senator Pia S. Cayetano lauds the passage of SBN 2332, which amends the Anti-Rape Law to raise the minimum age of sexual consent from 12 years old to 16.

Uphold FDA’s regulatory authority over vapes, heated tobacco products

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has called on her colleagues in the Senate to uphold the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)‘s jurisdiction to regulate vapes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) in the market, saying that the agency’s mandate to protect public health is firmly established in two laws previously passed by Congress in 2020 and 2009.

In her interpellation on the controversial Vape Bill (SBN 2239) last week, Cayetano questioned the bill’s objective to transfer the government’s regulatory power over vapes and HTPs from the FDA to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Explaining the coverage of health products under the FDA’s jurisdiction, Cayetano noted that the FDA Law of 2009 included “health-related devices,” which refer to “any device not used in health care, but has been determined by the FDA to adversely affect the health of the people.” (Section 9-C of RA 9711).

“I think it is quite clear that in his previous statements, when his honor says that this product [e-cigarette] is ‘less harmful,’ then that is already an admission that it is a product that has health effects. Because why would you even mention the words ‘more harmful.. less harmful,’ if it’s not a health-related product?” Cayetano asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ralph Recto.

“Moreover, if lotions, creams, and perfumes applied on the skin and other cosmetic products that come in contact with external parts of the body are regulated by the FDA, then what more for e-cigarettes, which are inhaled  by its users, sending harmful chemicals to the lungs and internal organs?” the senator further asked.

She also noted that under the Sin Tax Law of 2020, the FDA is clearly mandated to regulate, consistent with evolving medical and scientific studies, “the manufacture, importation, sale, packaging, advertising, and distribution of vapor products and heated tobacco products,” including the “sale to nonsmokers or persons below twenty-one (21) years old.” (Sections 144-B and 144-C of RA 11467)

In addition, she said that the FDA Law declared as policy that the State shall “protect and promote the right to health of the Filipino people,” and “help establish and maintain an effective health product regulatory system based on the country’s health needs and problems.” (Sections 3-A and 3-B of RA 9711)

The senator pointed out that Sen. Recto’s statements that e-cigarettes are ‘less harmful’ than conventional cigarettes amounted to a health claim, and an admission that these products are indeed ‘health-related devices’  that clearly fall under FDA’s jurisdiction as mandated by RA 9711.

Cayetano’s interpellation on SB 2239 is scheduled to resume this week.#

Senator Pia Cayetano
Solid legal ground: Senator Pia Cayetano says that FDA is mandated to regulate e-cigarettes by virtue of RA 11467 and RA 9711.

Pia: repeal ‘forgiveness clause’ in Anti-Rape Law

Senator Pia S. Cayetano wants to repeal an ‘antiquated’ provision in the Revised Penal Code (RPC), which was upheld by the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, allowing a rapist to be exonerated from the crime of rape by marrying his victim.

Article 266-C of the RPC, the senator noted, also extinguishes the crime of rape when the legal husband is the offender and his wife, as the offended party, subsequently forgives him.

Cayetano, a lawyer and women’s advocate, took the opportunity to manifest the subject last week during the Senate’s plenary deliberations on SBN 2332, the bill raising the minimum age of sexual consent from the current 12 years old to 16.

The senator emphasized to her colleagues the urgency of repealing Article 266-C of the RPC, which is commonly referred to as the ‘forgiveness clause’ in the Anti-Rape Law.

“We do have an antiquated law which recognizes ‘forgiveness’ as a ground to invalidate a rape case. This is one of the provisions that many [women’s] advocates want to be repealed. I am bringing it to the attention of the body so that we can once and for all address this issue,” she underscored.

The senator from Taguig City and Pateros explained that tP

Responding to Cayetano’s manifestation, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, agreed that the matter deserves to be studied and deliberated on by the chamber.

For his part, Senate President Vicente Sotto III backed Cayetano’s stand and committed to co-sponsor such a measure if it would be introduced in the Senate.

To recall, Cayetano, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Youth, Women, and Family Relations in the 15th Congress, spearheaded the review of gender discriminatory laws for the purpose of promoting gender equality. #

Senate session hall
Arguing for the repeal of the antiquated ‘forgiveness clause’ in the Anti-Rape Law, Senator Pia S. Cayetano explained that there are cases where a rape complainant is forced to marry her perpetrator to avoid shame and scandal.

Pia: POGO Tax Law to raise funds for healthcare, SDGs

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today described Republic Act No. 11590 – the newly signed law taxing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) – as a ‘major win’ for the country because it will generate billions in additional funds for public services, but without burdening Filipino taxpayers.

“For years, many of these POGOS have been operating without paying the proper taxes. By virtue of this law that I sponsored and defended, they will now be taxed,” said Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and principal sponsor of the POGO Tax Law.

“POGOS are offshore gaming operators. That means only foreigners abroad may gamble in POGOs. So the taxes do not come from Filipinos, or even foreigners residing in the country,” she explained.

“I’d rather tax the POGOs than see a proliferation of gambling in the country, which sadly seems to be the direction that our colleagues in the House are taking with the recent passage of a bill allowing online gambling,” she emphasized.

She further noted that under the new law, 60 percent of total revenues from the gaming tax imposed on offshore gaming companies will be earmarked by the government, and allocated for the following purposes:

•60% for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act;
•20% for the Health Facilities Enhancement Fund; and
•20% for the attainment of the SDGs, provided that the specific SDG targets shall be determined by NEDA.

“We made sure that the revenues from POGOs will be earmarked for much-needed health programs amid the pandemic, and contribute to the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” added the senator, who also chairs the Senate Committee on the SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

Based on estimates of the Department of Finance (DOF), Cayetano said RA 11590 is projected to generate P22.9 billion in 2022, through the 5 percent gaming tax imposed on the gross gaming revenues of POGO licensees.

In addition, the government is expected to collect P9.2 billion in 2022 from the 25 percent final withholding tax imposed on foreign POGO employees.

Combined, she said the total projected revenues from RA 11590 would amount to P32.1 billion in 2022. #

Senator Pia Cayetano
Senator Pia Cayetano at the Senate session hall

Sponsorship of the bill clarifying the tax rate for all private schools

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chairperson, Committee on Ways and Means

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, today, I rise to sponsor and seek your support for the passage of Senate Bill No. 2407, under Committee Report No. 311, which amends Section 27(B) of the National Internal Revenue Code.

Not long ago, this chamber passed the CREATE Act, a measure that serves as our fulfillment to the overdue reforms in the country’s corporate income tax and fiscal incentives system.

In particular, CREATE provided reprieve to proprietary educational institutions in the country by lowering their 10% preferential tax rate to 1% for a period of 3 years, specifically from July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2023.

This was made in keeping with our desire to provide support for our education sector, which has been severely burdened by the disruptions caused by the pandemic. This sector continues to need as much assistance and resources as it can get in order to continue delivering quality education to Filipino learners.

Meanwhile, on 8 April 2021,  the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) issued Revenue Regulation No. 5-2021, which specifically stated that only non-profit proprietary educational institutions can avail of the preferential tax rate under CREATE, basing this on  Supreme Court decisions.

This then prompted the filing of Senate Bill No. 2272 by Senator Sonny Angara, which sought to clarify the issue. During our hearing held on June 30, 2021,  my fellow legislators and I asked the DOF to suspend the implementation of the BIR Revenue Regulation in order to avoid its impending ill effects on the “for profit” private schools.

In response, the DOF, through its letter to the Senate dated 21 July 2021, gave its commitment that in order to ease the burden of taxation among proprietary educational institutions, they shall issue the appropriate revenue regulations suspending the relevant provisions of BIR’s Revenue Regulation No. 5-2021.

As a result, the Bureau issued Revenue Regulation No. 14-2021, which suspended the inclusion of “for-profit” private schools in the regime of regular income tax.

So this Committee Report effectively clarifies that the preferential tax rate of 10% under the NIRC, which was lowered by the CREATE Act to 1% from July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2023, applies to all private schools – putting an end to the debates as to whether  “for-profit” private schools were covered or not.

Private schools are the government’s partners in education. This partnership is even more crucial today, as our nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted our educational systems and the formal learning of our current generation of students.

Thank you Mr. President. #

Speech hailing PH’s Olympic medalists

Today, I join my colleagues and the entire nation in honoring our Olympic medalists: Hidilyn Diaz, who brought home the gold, Nesthy Petecio (silver), Carlo Paalam (silver), and Eumir Marcial (bronze), and for this historic record haul.

As I’ve said before, these athletes, these medalists did not get their Olympic medals by the stroke of luck. It was grueling hard work, prioritizing training, early mornings, forgetting their love lives, maybe even compromising family responsibilities. These are sacrifices that they made for over a decade to get to where they are today, to bring pride and honor to our country.

These are the struggles that they dealt with and will continue to deal with in the years to come as they continue to represent us.

As I’ve said, when they walked onto the Olympic floor, onto the stadium, that medal was already hung over their necks because of the years of practice and training and sacrifices that they have made.

Let me quickly start by commending 23-year-old Carlo Paalam, who grew up in Cagayan de Oro City, and started training in 2009 as a young boy to help his family live a better life. Salamat sa ginawa mo para sa ating bansa, ipagpatuloy mo ito, Carlo.

And then, 25-year-old Eumir Marcial, who also started boxing at a very young age, with his father as his first trainer, becoming one of Asia’s most highly regarded young boxers. Salamat sa binigay mong karangalan sa ating lahat.

And now, Mr. President, I would like to bring a women’s…a gender perspective, to my short speech. Mr. President, our Filipina athletes have come a long way. Obviously, the whole nation rejoiced when Hidilyn brought home the gold medal, the first gold medal of our country, brought home by a woman.

But let me give a little bit of history. I personally got interested when and how women started competing in the highest level because as a runner in college, I would always tune in, as a young kid, I was already tuning in to the Olympics. And when I was a varsity player in college, and a runner already, I found out that it was only in the 1984 Olympics that there was a category for (women’s marathon).

So basically, the first (women long-distance runners) joined the Olympics only in 1984. And at that time, that was shocking to me because women were running, they have been competing. But the Olympics only recognized women as serious long-distance runners in 1984.

So I decided to research about boxing and weightlifting, the sports where our women athletes also brought home the medal. And Mr. President, this is quite interesting.

When our silver medalist, 29-year-old Nesthy Petecio, made the lineup for the women’s national boxing team at 15 years old, boxing wasn’t even recognized for women in the Olympics yet. So can you imagine that? Sumubo siya, maybe knowing or not really knowing, kasi at that age, laban ka lang, pero if things did not change, there would not even be women boxers in the Olympics. Well this changed in 2012, only 9 years ago. So Nesthy Petecio is really a history in the making kasi wala pang 10 years na nagko-compete ang mga kababaihan in boxing at the highest level in the Olympics.

Now what about weightlifting? Consider this. When Hidilyn was born, weightlifting for women was not yet a sport in the Olympics. Pang-lalaki lang. You will notice that… from my research, it appears that anything that is extremely strenuous, so obviously, including long-distance running, weightlifting, and boxing – women were regarded as too frail to compete. So in the sport of weightlifting, it was only in the year 2000 that it became an Olympic sport open to women. And from what I know, Hidilyn started training when she was 10, so she was training around 2001. And that was just one year since the Olympics recognized women as weightlifters.

So it’s interesting how far we have come, how our Filipina athletes have led the way in promoting their sports at the Olympic level and bringing recognition to women athletes. Mr. President, our women athletes face a lot of obstacles. Sometimes, more than men, many times, more than men. Precisely because even at the highest level, their participation was not even recognized until lately. And as I had said in my earlier speech when we also honored the athletes, I can just imagine, even in my sport as a runner, there are questions and criticisms on how a woman would engage in that sport. What more for these athletes, who are breaking down barriers, who are cracking the glass ceiling by competing in a sport that is traditionally known to be the sports of men?

So they represent the future of women in this country, not just in sports, but in all aspects of women’s lives. I have always been a believer that men and women must work together in order for us to have a better country. And this is already a significant breakthrough, to see that 2 out of our 4 medalists are women.

And even in the lineup of our Olympians, quite a number of them are women. So I’d like to end by honoring all the athletes who represented us in the Olympics.

And before that, Mr. President, I would like to point out that I know my colleagues and I are of one view that we want to continue to support the athletes.

As we approach the budget season, let’s remember that if there was any glimmer of hope during this pandemic, if there was any light at the never-ending darkness of the COVID tunnel, it was our Olympians. We suspended the session to watch the Olympians compete, to watch them live. They brought us hope, they brought us joy for a few minutes in time, we forgot our misery of living in this time of COVID.

I hope that we remember that, their feats, the joy they brought us during the budget season. I hope that we can provide the kind of support that has been shown after the medals were brought home. I hope that we can provide this kind of funding in the budget so that these athletes can continue training and doing what they do best: bringing hope and honor to our country. God bless you. Mabuhay po kayong mga medalists natin, mabuhay po lahat ng Olympians, at pati po ang coaches and trainers.

I forgot, I need to add one more thing. Unfortunately, wala tayong Paralympics participant that brought home a medal. However, I’d like to honor their participation as well. They also need more support because it’s even harder for them, given their disabilities. And I’d like to point out, in RA 10699, which I think was authored by our Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Sen. Sonny… This is the ‘National Athletes and Coaches Benefits and Incentives Act.’ His honor accepted my amendment, which was to make the cash award that we give our Paralympic participants the same as our regularly-abled athletes. This is so important, Mr. President, because as I was going through the news, I found out that in the US, it’s the first Paralympics that they will be giving equal amount to their Paralympians. Nauna pa tayo. So once in a while, actually naman pagdating sa policy, mabilis tayo mauna. It’s really the implementation where we’re a little bit slow. So I hope the next time we honor our Olympians, may kasama na rinh Paralympians. And I hope we can get the support of our colleagues when we review the budget and literally put our money where our mouth is. Ipakita natin kung gaano natin sila kamahal, kung gaano natin nirerespeto ang propesyon nila.

Thank you again and God bless our Filipino athletes. Thank you, Mr. President. #

 

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.

Bicam approves Sin Tax Bill

The Sin Tax Bill has moved a step forward towards becoming a law.

Members of the joint panel of the Senate and the House of Representatives approved this afternoon the bicameral conference committee report reconciling the disagreeing provisions of the sin tax bill, which seeks to raise excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products in the country beginning January 1, 2020.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Pia S. Cayetano, along with House Ways and Means Committee Chair and Albay Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, led the bicam discussions held in the Senate on Wednesday that lasted for more than four hours.

Based on estimates of the Department of Finance (DoF), the approved bicam version will generate P22.2 billion in incremental revenues from alcohol and e-cigs during the first year of implementation. But due to an amended provision exempting specific prescription medicines from value added tax (VAT), revenues from the measure will decrease by P5.2 billion, for a total of P17.1 billion worth of net incremental revenues for 2020.

Earmarking of revenues from higher sin taxes would be undertaken as follows: 60 percent will go to the Universal Health Care (UHC) program, 20 percent to the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) of the Department of Health, and the remaining 20 percent to programs seeking to attain the country’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The tax rates approved by the bicam panel are the following:

– Fermented Liquor (specific tax rate): P35 in 2020, P37 in 2021, P39 in 2022, P41 in 2023, and P43 in 2024, with a 6 percent indexation thereafter.

– Distilled Spirits (specific tax rate with 22 percent ad valorem tax): P42 in 2020, P47 in 2021, P52 in 2022, P59 in 2023, and P66 in 2024, with a 6 percent indexation thereafter.

– Sparkling and still wines (specific tax rate):  P50 in 2020, with a 6 percent indexation thereafter.

– Heated Tobacco Products or HTPs (specific tax rate): P25 in 2020, P27.50 in 2021, P30 in 2022, and P32.50 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation thereafter

– Salt Nicotine (specific tax rate): P37 in 2020, P42 in 2021, P47 in 2022, P52 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation thereafter

– Free Base (specific tax rate): P45 in 2020, P50 in 2021, P55 in 2022, P60 in 2023, with a 5 percent indexation thereafter

For her part, Cayetano admitted that she would have preferred the higher tax rates originally proposed under Senate Bill No. 1074. Nevertheless, the ways and means committee chair stressed that she respects the democratic deliberations that happened during the bicam, which paved the way for the bill’s approval.

“As a health advocate… I have two roles: increasing the tax for purposes of UHC [and using taxation] as a deterrent to the consumption of a product that is not healthy… I had hoped [for higher tax rates], but that is how democracy works, that is how we work as a bicameral house, so the figures we have are what they are and they will still go a long way,” the senator said.

“At the end of the day, I pushed [for this measure] until the very end. Pagkatapos nun, move on na. [We will] try to do a better job next time, [and] try to find additional sources,” she added.

“I am the kind of person who really sets my standards high. I really wanted to find enough funding to continually support UHC and to use the price imposed on sin products, whether it’s alcohol, ecig, or HTP, as a deterrent,” she explained.

“My next goal will be to really have advocacies and health campaigns to help people switch to healthier alternatives, because we don’t want young people, or even not so young [ones], to become addicted to a new bad habit,” she continued.

Senate members of the bicam panel included Senators Imee Marcos, Ronald Dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Koko Pimentel, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.

They were joined by their House counterparts, including Deputy Speakers LRay Villafuerte, Raneo Abu, and Deogracias Victor Savellano, and Representatives Estrellita Suansing, Jack Duavit, Sheena Tan, Sharon Garin, Teodorico Haresco Jr.,  and Jose Antonio Alvarado. #

Senator Pia Cayetano and Albay Representative Joey Salceda, ways and means committee chairpersons of the Senate and House, respectively, hold a media briefing following the bicam approval of the Sin Tax Bill.
Members of the bicameral conference committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, following their approval of the final version of the sin tax bill on Wednesday (December 18).
Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano stresses a point during the bicameral conference committee meeting on Wednesday to reconcile disagreeing provisions of the Sin Tax Bill.

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! #