To tax or ban e-cigarettes? Pia to wait for President’s EO banning e-cigs

Reaction to President Duterte’s directive to ban e-cigarettes
By Senator Pia S. Cayetano  
Chairperson, Senate Committee on Ways and Means
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Over the months,  I’ve read numerous studies and reports on e-cigarettes, conducted hearings, had discussions with health advocates, including experts in WHO, and listened  to the industry  and the speakers they arranged for me to meet. All of these led me to conclude that:

 

– We are dealing with products that clearly  have health risks despite industry and their supporters saying the risks are less than smoking and that they are an effective device to help smokers quit;

– These health risks are still being documented and studied;

– Some of these products have caused deaths and severe illnesses in various forms.

What this means is that we must really assess if this is a product that should be outright banned, as has been already done in some countries like Australia, Singapore, Brazil, etc., or strictly regulated, which was the direction I was taking as Chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Meanwhile, the President’s recent pronouncement to ban e-cigarettes is an assertion of the authority of the State to restrict the use of any consumer product that endangers public health. I agree that when the people’s health is at risk, public interest must always take precedence over any business or commercial interest.

As a backgrounder, it is important to note that the e-cigarette industry was previously given the opportunity to work and thresh out issues with the government. The Department of Health (DOH) issued Administrative Order (AO) 2019-0007 last August precisely to lay down regulations for e-cigarette products. Unfortunately,  members of the industry chose to question the AO in court instead of welcoming government regulation.

In the meantime, the very first case of electronic cigarette- or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) was reported in the country last weekend, involving a 16-year-old girl.

No issue can be resolved if members of the industry would insist on shunning any form of regulation by constantly suing the DOH and Food and Drugs Administration (FDA)! With this attitude,a  ban is really in order.

I await the EO from the President. Until then, these products that everyone, even those in the industry, recognize as harmful are in the market, and should be taxed. And it is still my job to see this bill through.#
Senate Ways & Means Chair Pia Cayetano holds a giant prescription with health experts during the Sin Tax Coalition’s press conference in the Senate. The coalition had called on other senators to pass the bill seeking to raise taxes on e-cigarettes & alcohol. (Photo: Senate PRIB)

Pia: Higher sin taxes to make alcohol less accessible to the youth

One of the primary objectives of increasing sin taxes is to make alcoholic beverages less accessible to the country’s youth, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said on Tuesday (November 5).

The chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee stressed this point at the resumption of plenary debates on Senate Bill No. 1074, which seeks to raise the excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and e-cigarettes, including heated tobacco products and vapes.

Responding to the interpellation of Senator Manny Pacquiao, a co-author of SB 1074, Cayetano noted, “What we want to achieve is [to significantly raise alcohol prices] so that these are not so accessible to the most vulnerable: the children and youth.”

“Hindi po tayo naniniwala na kailangan affordable ang alak sa ating mga kabataan. For example, sa isang bote ng gin, ang karagdagang presyo lang dito ay P2.00 per shot [under SB 1074]. Nasa P6.00 ang isang shot [based on the current price of gin],” she explained.

Cayetano also defended the tax rates proposed under SB 1074, which are notably higher than the rates approved by the House of Representatives and those recommended by the Department of Finance (DOF).

“What I have proposed is a rate that is higher than that passed in the House of Representatives. In fact, it is also higher than that initially showed to me by DOF. But both the DOF and DOH [Department of Health] now support my version,” she said.

The senator explained that, even with the P47.9 billion additional revenues that can be generated under her proposal, there would still be an P11.8 billion gap in the funding for government’s Universal Health Care (UHC) program.

Even if this gap is bridged, she said the UHC would only be able to deliver bare minimum services because of the program’s huge funding requirement. As such, she said any additional health revenue should be welcomed to grant Filipinos better access to basic and specialized health services.

“Kailangan lang natin bumisita sa isang healthcare center para maintindihan natin na malayo pa ang patutunguhan natin… Yung mga nakikita nating mga ospital na dilapidated, hindi pa lahat ora-orada magagawa,” Cayetano pointed out.

“Items like catastrophic illnesses, including cancer, hindi pa po covered ng mga packages natin sa UHC. In fairness to DOH and PhilHealth, every year they are increasing and improving their packages. But that is the nature of the problems they face because of the lack of funding… And because we are a country with more than 7,000 islands, it’s going to be very difficult to readily provide the kind of health care we dream of,” she added.

Meanwhile, Cayetano clarified that taxation alone cannot address the country’s problems on alcoholism and cigarette addiction, stressing that it is just part of a more comprehensive plan to protect Filipinos’ health and wellbeing.

“Taxation is not meant to be used as a lone preventive tool, but should be [implemented] along with other measures including education campaigns and advocacies,” she said. #

Cayetano: Even with P47.9 billion additional revenues from SB 1074, there would still be an P11.8 billion gap in the funding for government’s Universal Health Care program.

Pia gears up for daily debates on Sin Tax

“Sin tax reform is not just about numbers. It’s really about changing lives. And the work that we do will pave the way for a safer future for our children.”

Thus said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Pia S. Cayetano, as she prepares to defend her proposed tax rates under Senate Bill (SB) No. 1074, which seeks to raise excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and electronic cigarettes, including heated tobacco products and vapes.

The Senate is set to resume floor debates on the tax reform measure on Tuesday (November 5).

“I am ready and I will make myself available every day in my effort to get this bill approved as soon as possible,” according to Cayetano.

“I would really like to address the concerns of my colleagues about sin tax. We hope to put on record a very interesting discussion,” she added.

The senator said she is prepared to present all the data to back her proposed tax rate hikes under SB 1074. “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.”

Cayetano said the chances of the tax reform measure being approved in the Senate this year are high. She clarified, however, that fellow senators would be given sufficient time to raise their concerns during the plenary debates.

“As long as there is enough time for my fellow senators to prepare their questions, it’s a reasonable expectation [that the bill will get approved]. We really give each other enough time to ask those questions. So I am making myself available in the next few months for interpellation.”

The Department of Finance (DOF) has estimated that SB 1074 would generate P47.9 billion for the Universal Health Care (UHC) program next year, and a total of P356.9 billion for the program over the next five years.

The senator particularly stressed the need to increase the country’s tax rates on alcohol, citing that the Philippines has among the lowest prices of beers, hard liquors, and wines in the ASEAN region.

“Ang baba ng presyo ng ating mga alak kumpara sa ibang bansa sa ASEAN. Kaya talagang panahon na po na taasan natin ito,” she stressed.

The Philippines has the third lowest price of a 330-ml beer in the entire region, next to Vietnam and Cambodia. It also has the second lowest prices of a 700-ml bottle of gin and a 750-ml bottle of wine in ASEAN, next to Vietnam and Brunei, respectively.

“If we want to make taxation an integral part of our comprehensive [health] package, then it should be a meaningful kind of taxation. I will never be comfortable with proposing a measure just for the sake of it,” Cayetano asserted.

Meanwhile, the senator acknowledged growing public support for higher sin tax rates.

At the resumption of session on Monday (November 4), doctors, youth and civil society groups held a mobilization and press conference in the Senate to express support for Cayetano and urge other senators to approve SB 1074.

“I feel it’s very important that you continue your advocacy on the ground. We will do our part, but in the community level, your work is truly vital. We’re very happy that there are young people who are also taking the initiative to support our proposal,” Cayetano told the coalition members.

She said the ultimate goal of Sin Tax is to reduce deaths, sickness, and other hazards caused by excessive drinking, as well as to address social problems linked to alcoholism like domestic violence, crimes against women, and road accidents resulting from drunk driving.

Moreover, she said the measure seeks to protect Filipinos, especially the youth, from the dangers of vaping. #

Senator Pia Cayetano gives updates on SB 1074 before members of the Sin Tax Coalition at a press conference held in the Senate.

More than revenues, Sin Tax is about changing lives – Pia

*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. #

Pass Sin Tax for people’s health: Doctors supporting higher excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarettes present a giant prescription calling for the passage of the Sin Tax bill to Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia S. Cayetano. Proceeds from the measure will augment funding for the government’s Universal Health Care program. (Senate PRIB / Joseph Vidal)
Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano holds up a ‘tomb stone’ showing the health hazards of alcohol consumption at the Sin Tax Coalition press conference held at the Senate on Monday.

 

 

Pia wants CCTVs in government offices

Public office is a public trust, and therefore should be transparent and accountable to the people at all times. 

Thus stressed Senator Pia S. Cayetano, who has filed a measure that will mandate the installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems in all government offices throughout the country.

Called the ‘Surveillance Camera for Government Establishments Act’ (SBN 503), Cayetano said her proposal seeks to capture on video the day-to-day transactions of government offices, especially those rendering frontline services. 

She added that CCTVs will help deter corrupt practices, such as public officials asking for kickbacks or bribes to hasten government transactions. 

Further, SBN 503 is aligned with government’s commitments to attain Goal 16 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

“Ridding our institutions of corruption means  better quality social services, which would help the country achieve all SDGs by 2030,” she noted.

The bill mandates surveillance cameras with audio recording technology to be installed and maintained within the premises of government offices, especially in the country’s immigration counters, land transportation offices, customs, internal revenue offices, permits offices, and land transportation offices.

The surveillance cameras shall always be switched on and recording on a 24/7 basis. Security employees or personnel shall be specifically tasked to monitor the video feeds.

Meanwhile, areas requiring privacy like restrooms, shower rooms, changing rooms, and the like are exempted from the installation of CCTV cameras. Concerned government offices shall also prohibit any use, viewing, disclosure, or publication of video recordings that are not within the mandate of the proposed measure.

The use of video records shall only be allowed in specific instances where they are needed: for the investigation or prosecution of a punishable offense; for a pending criminal or civil proceeding; for the avoidance of an imminent threat to persons or property; or to ascertain the identity of a criminal perpetrator.

The senator’s proposal is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s challenge for Congress to help end corruption in government, a call which he reiterated during his fourth State of the Nation Address. 

The President earlier made the same suggestion to install CCTV cameras in government offices to monitor the activities of employees and help avoid corruption. #

Public offices under the public eye: Senator Pia Cayetano wants CCTVs installed in government offices to deter corrupt practices and to promote accountability and transparency.

Pia: Listen to experts on Dengvaxia

“Let’s listen to the experts.”

This is what Senator Pia S. Cayetano had to say about recent calls to revive the Dengvaxia vaccine following the Department of Health’s (DOH) declaration of a dengue epidemic throughout the country.

In a television interview on Friday (August 9), Cayetano said she agreed with President Rodrigo Duterte’s position to wait for the advice of local health experts before considering using the vaccine again in the Philippines. 

“This is a technical and scientific matter that should be left to the health experts. The President [already] said he’s listening to them, so let’s give this time,” she asserted.

“Sana po huwag muna tayong mag-comment… Kasi litong-lito na ang mga tao,” the senator appealed. 

Cayetano said while the issue on Dengvaxia’s revival is yet to be decided on by public health specialists, government officials should focus on discussing policies that will provide Filipino families better access to health services.  

“Sana po ang mga politicians, we just discuss policies. Our policy is we want to ensure the safety of the Filipino people. We want to ensure that they have access to [appropriate healthcare services]. The poor should also have access to whatever is available to the rich,” she stressed. 

In particular, Cayetano said proper attention should be given on addressing the problem of stunted growth among Filipino kids. 

The DOH stated that one in three children in the country remains stunted, a figure which has not improved in the last 15 years. 

“We must go back to the health basics. Those should be the concerns that we have. That’s part of our job, to ensure that the poorest of the poor are covered [by our health budget] and that these children become healthier,” she noted.

“We need to address this because this will help our children fight [dengue]. When they are malnourished or do not have the proper vaccinations, they are more susceptible to diseases,” she added. 

The principal author of the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act and several other public health laws, Cayetano has filed bills in the Senate seeking to improve health services for Filipinos, including measures that seek to provide one midwife in every barangay; establish specialty centers in DOH hospitals and medical centers; institute the utilization and promotion of Folic Acid food fortification and supplementation; and the Build, Build, Build counterpart program for public health facilities.

The senator’s initiatives are in line with the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3 of the SDGs, which urges nations to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. #

Senator Pia Cayetano interviewed on CNN’s The Source: “We must go back to the health basics.”

Transcript of media interview (July 31, 2019)

Reporter: Ma’am, ‘Yung una po muna, hingi lang pong reaction dun sa biro ng Pangulo kahapon na, “When will your dynasty end?” 

Sen. Pia: Yeah, so first of all, biro nga ‘yun, ‘diba? So biro ‘yun, so if you ask me, biro. So I’ll leave it at that, kasi there are more important issues there. And that’s the TESDA App that was just launched [in Taguig City], which I feel is so interesting. And I think we should draw attention to what the important issues are, not a joke. 

But on that note, that is also something that I’m always willing to talk about. Kasi when you talk about dynasty, I always ask, let’s talk about governance. And I think with all due humility, the President’s high regard for our family, for my brother, is evident in no less than his being his endorsed Speaker. 

So, we’re so proud… I call on everyone to judge the new Speaker on the work that he will do. I’m so excited to be back in the Senate. I’m so excited for the work that I have to do as the new Chair of the Committee of Ways and Means and Chair also of the Committee on Sustainable Development. 

So, we want to be judged on the work that we do. That’s an open book, and we want to really do the kind of job that will make the Filipinos proud that they elected us. Let’s make it clear, we were elected. 

Reporter: Ma’am, does it also mean that you as part of the Senate or Congress will not support the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill? 

Sen. Pia: No. I’ve always said and you can always just refer to my statements on this. I always have an open mind on any issue that is brought on the floor. That has always been the position I’ve taken. 

I may have biases, so when you look… I did a quick scan on the political dynasty bills, and there are different definitions of political dynasty. So… it’s my job to have an open mind and to look at it. 

Reporter: ‘Yung Dissolution of Marriage Bill niyo po, can you explain lang, divorce po ba ito? Ano po ang mga magiging changes nito compared sa annulment?

Sen. Pia: That’s a very good question. And I think ang question niyo should be directed at those people who do not like the term “divorce.” You should ask them what they mean by dissolution of marriage versus divorce because I do not know.

I humbly have to say that I do not know what the difference is, but as one of the authors of the bill in the House of Representatives, I believe it was entitled, “Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage” precisely to address the discomfort that some had with the term, “divorce.”

But if may difference ‘yun, the title is there… But ako naman, as the author here also in the Senate, happy naman ako to listen to any and all concerns. I’m just happy that it’s being discussed.

For the record, there are three kinds of bills that were filed in the House. And I’ve refiled so far two of them – the Absolute Divorce or Dissolution [of Marriage], that’s one. And then the other one is the Foreign Divorce, which is actually already an existing form of divorce, actually the only form of divorce recognized in our Family Code. 

We just fine-tuned some details, which we were told for the last almost decade na it becomes a stumbling block for making that provision in the existing Family Code easy to use. It’s become very cumbersome for people to use because of lack of clarity. So ‘yun lang ‘yung sa Foreign Divorce.

Reporter: Ma’am, sa dissolution of marriage, paano siya naiba sa annulment, ma’am?

Sen. Pia: If you look at Article 36 on Annulment, the only ground there is the psychological incapacity. That is the existing ground that we have under our Family Code. So the grounds for divorce that I filed, there are more grounds. Some of them are similar to the grounds for legal separation. So that’s the easiest way.

You know what, I’d be very happy to have a forum on this and to answer more questions, kasi well it’s something that I’ve really worked on and I really believe in, so I’m happy to answer questions para walang… para people would understand, parang FAQs. 

Reporter: Why do you think is it time for the Philippines to legalize divorce?

Sen. Pia: My answer to that is based on scientific evidence. We went to three countries, [for consultations held by] the House of Representatives, where we had a lot of kababayans. 

I would say it’s partly because of that one bill, that is on the Foreign Divorce, because we have so many kababayans who are married to foreigners. But we also realized that so many of our kababayans are married to Filipinos and therefore, their need would be a regular divorce or dissolution of marriage. 

And so we went to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Japan, and we had hearings in the House and I have met with so many groups espousing divorce, and the stories are so sad. I hear one story, I think, “Wow, this is the worst,” and then I hear another story, it’s about mostly women – but of course it applies to both – women who after their husbands have left them, beaten them up, had another family, had other wives, they’re still supporting that man. Because under the law, they are required to support the man. 

And even – in this particular story – even her grown children were saying, “Nay, iwanan mo na si Tatay.” Eh pero she feels that she has a legal obligation, a moral obligation, until ma-divorce ‘yun. Baka sabihin niyo, ba’t hindi annulment? Eh kasi sa annulment, some of them don’t want to avail of it, because wala naman daw silang psychological incapacity to fulfill their obligations. Pinaninindigan nila na hindi sila pasok doon. 

You can… As soon as we start discussing this, I know that my Facebook will be flooded with questions on divorce. Kahit anong topic ang pag-usapan, laging meron pa ring bumabalik sa divorce. And all over the country, during the campaign, I was asked repeatedly about it…

Reporter: Have you looked at the chances here in the Senate?

Sen. Pia: I haven’t really bothered. As you know nga, the committees that I will be chairing this Congress are new to me. So, dun ako naka-focus. I haven’t really had time. It’s just that I’ve also read what you’ve read na most people tend to be open-minded because they’ve also heard stories of people they know, people who come to them. So I’d like to believe, I’d like to hope that people would have an open mind. 

And what I always reiterate, for those who are against it, you don’t have to avail of it. For those who are against it, in your own church, in your own religious organization, you can continue to believe what you want to believe. That is your supreme right. And never ko po aapakan or never ko… Wala ho akong karapatan na kwestyunin ang paniniwala ng mga tao when it comes to spiritual and religious reasons. 

But when it comes to legal, it is my obligation to have an open mind and pass laws that will be applicable to all Filipinos who want to avail of it. Kasi remember, this is a kind of law that is not mandatory, this is a kind of law people can avail of. ‘Yun ‘yun eh, may difference ‘yun. 

Reporter: So parang it’s a privilege?

Sen. Pia: Let’s say it’s an option. Baka mamaya may legal implication pa ‘yung privilege. It’s an option. 

Reporter: Sorry ma’am, additional grounds, irreconcilable differences, ano pa ‘yung mga possible grounds?

Sen. Pia: Give me time na balikan ko ‘yun, kasi ganun ako eh. Move on na ako sa ibang bills after napasa ‘yun sa House. I was hoping napasa na ‘yun sa [17th] Congress. Let me just go back to it and then I’ll discuss it further.

Reporter: Last na po, aside from the grounds, what else are the advantages of divorce over annulment? Kasi sabi nila may annulment na nga bakit pa may divorce?

Sen. Pia: Ah hindi. Kasi if you look at our provision on Annulment, any law student can tell you, we have one article on it. That’s it. One article – Article 36. There’s actually no provisions on support, they just use by analogy other provisions on support. There are no provisions on the procedure, so the bill that we filed, the bill that is the product of the House… 

I’ll reiterate ‘House,’ kasi I was in the House of Representatives, lagay niyo na lang ‘yun as background, baka malito ang ibang tao na what I’m talking about na bill na na-hear, that was while I was in the House. This is a product of lengthy discussions and so there’s a lot more details in it, including support, including what is known in other countries as alimony, napag-usapan din ‘yun kasi issue ‘yun. Some believe na in other countries, dahil sa walang forever, pero ‘yung support may forever. So mabigat daw, mabigat. 

So we had long discussions about that, and we tried to look for middle ground na there would be, if I remember right, please let’s confirm it lang, three years of support for the spouse who was dependent on the working spouse. Kasi ‘yung objective nga is mag-move on ka na, try to get gainfully employed also, give that person enough time to also gainfully…

But I wanna have an open mind about it if kailangan longer, kasi the objective din naman is to not abandon the spouse who dedicated their life to being a homemaker, whether it’s a man or a woman, it applies both ways.

But kaya ko rin naisip na hindi rin tama na ‘yung forever kasi paano kung ‘yung breadwinner, katulad ng mga na-meet ko na OFW? Tapos 20 years na siyang nagtatrabaho dun, sinusuportahan niya ang asawa niya, and then worst case, ‘yung asawa niya na nambabae na nagkaanak na sa iba, baka siya pa magbibigay ng support forever because siya ang technically working, you know what I mean? 

So you have to weigh these things. Sasabihin, yeah, pero si mister naman sa bahay ‘yung nag-aalaga ng mga anak, pero nangaliwa din siya. So iba-balance mo rin lahat ‘yun eh. So, I can’t pretend that there’s a simple, easy, hundred percent fair, but we have to do our best.

Reporter: ‘Yung finile niyo po, that was the same bill that was passed in the House last [17th] Congress?

Sen. Pia: Yes, but I’m very open pa to even making my own amendments to it.

Reporter: So kung ano ang pumasa sa House, ‘yun ang ni-refile niyo?

Sen. Pia: Oo, kasi you have to remember, that was a product of members of the House. Eh nandito na ako [Senate, 18th Congress], so kapag nandito naman ako, minsan naman nagkakaroon din ako ng bagong ideas, and then syempre… Ano naman ‘yun, kumbaga free for all ulit.

[Inaudible question]

Sen. Pia: Ay tapos na siya, pasado siya [by the House in the 17th Congress]. Oo, walang nangyari dito [sa Senate in the 17th Congress].

[Inaudible question]

Sen. Pia: That’s a good question, I have to say that it’s kinda my observation also, I don’t know kung may survey talaga. But it’s kinda my observation pagka ganun, ‘yung mga babae, “Yes!” Ta’s ‘yung mga lalaki, “‘Wag na ‘yan…”

Reporter: Pero do you find it a relief na ‘yung mga [inaudible – senators] most of them at least open to discussion?

Sen. Pia: Ganito, sa dami ng trabaho ko, kasi nga ‘yung mga bagong committees ko, and again, I have to emphasize ‘yung Committee on Sustainable Development, andaming sakop nun, syempre happy ako kung kahit anong bill na sinusulong ko maraming support, dahil mababawasan din ‘yung trabaho ko dahil wala na ako masyadong kukumbinsihin. So I’m always happy naman na open-minded, or may support, or willing to discuss, I’m always happy. Thank you!# 

Senator Pia Cayetano answers questions from the Senate media.

Pia calls for ‘plastics-free’ Senate

Consistent with the celebration of ‘Plastic-Free July,’ Senator Pia S. Cayetano has called on the Senate to do its share in supporting the global movement to ditch single-use plastics and reduce plastic pollution.

In a brief manifestation during Monday’s session (July 29), Cayetano reiterated her plastics-free advocacy by urging fellow senators not to contribute to the generation of plastic wastes in the country. 

She enjoined her colleagues to adopt a policy of prohibiting PET bottles in plenary or during Senate hearings. 

As an alternative to plastic, the senator had bamboo tumblers distributed to her colleagues in the session hall. 

This was not the first time that Cayetano made an appeal to the Senate to be more environment-conscious in the conduct of its duties.

In 2012, Cayetano wrote a letter to the Senate Secretariat suggesting that water dispensers be set up in the Senate halls, instead of distributing bottled water during session and public hearings. 

“This was adopted at that time, but I don’t really know what happened in the (last) Congress because I wasn’t here. So may I propose that we adopt it once again, especially since it is July, which is No-Plastic Month,” Cayetano told her colleagues. 

“To help support my colleagues in shifting to a more sustainable way of drinking water or whatever beverage you prefer, I am giving all of you bamboo tumblers, which you can use in lieu of single-use plastics,” she added.

In 2011, Cayetano also requested the establishment of a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and enforce a ban on plastic bags within the institution’s premises. This resulted in a 50-percent reduction in the solid wastes generated by the Senate during that year.#

Senator Pia Cayetano asks the Senate to reduce its plastic waste, starting with ditching the practice of distributing PET bottled water during hearings and sessions.
With Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa holding up the reusable bamboo tumblers that Senator Pia Cayetano gave out to her colleagues in lieu of plastic bottled water distributed in plenary.

Pia seeks protection of PH forest resources

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed a bill seeking to enact a comprehensive sustainable forest management strategy to safeguard the country’s dwindling forest resources.

Through Senate Bill No. 284, or the ‘Sustainable Forest Management Act,’ Cayetano wants the country to preserve and optimize the utilization of forest resources  in line with the government’s sustainable development agenda. 

She said protecting forest resources forms part of government commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the Philippines adopted in 2015. Goal 13 of the SDGs urges nations to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

“Forests provide the country with natural resources that contribute to economic growth. They provide livelihood through raw materials that are converted into finished products,” Cayetano said. 

“At the same time, forests serve as protection and buffer from natural disasters, and help mitigate the effects of climate change,” added the senator, a known environment advocate.

She lamented, however, how the Philippines has been losing approximately 47,000 hectares of forest each year, increasing the risk of massive social and economic losses from resource depletion and climate disasters.

“As President Duterte said in his SONA, natural disasters are poverty creators. And so protecting our forests is not only an environment matter, but an economic imperative,” she stressed. 

Cayetano’s bill seeks to promote land use practices to protect existing forest resources, conserve our fragile biodiversity, and rehabilitate deforested or denuded areas. 

The Forest Management Bureau shall be the primary agency to oversee  the development, management, and utilization of forest lands, including the identification of areas for protection or production purposes. An Undersecretary for Forestry position shall also be created under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). 

Furthermore, the bill rationalizes the establishment, operations, and development of forest-based industries, mandating the DENR to institute measures for an open and competitive market of our forest products. 

SBN 284 pushes for the establishment of agroforestry economic zones to ease the conduct of business and attract local and foreign investments. 

The proposal also seeks to improve the quality of forestry education to develop highly skilled human resources in the field of sustainable forest management. 

Finally, SBN 284 provides for a Community-Based Forest Management Program (CBFMP) to be undertaken by concerned national agencies and the local government units. 

“With this, we aim to empower indigenous people’s groups and other forest-based communities as stewards and partners in managing our forest resources in a sustainable way,” Cayetano noted. #

Senator Pia Cayetano visits an upland village in Mt. Ugo in Benguet, Cordillera Administrative Region. (file photo)
In this file photo, senator and mountain trail enthusiast Pia Cayetano participates at a trail run in Mt. Ugo. The annual event promotes fitness and environmental awareness.
Senator Pia Cayetano unfurls the tri-colors at the peak of Mt. Ugo. At 2,150 meters above sea level (MASL), the famed mountain is one of the tallest in the Cordillera region. (file photo)

Pia seeks unified agency to respond to disasters

Building on the country’s progress to respond to both natural and human-made calamities, Senator Pia S. Cayetano filed a bill seeking to merge the functions of different agencies involved in disaster risk reduction and management to form the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

She said that while the current law (Philippine Disaster Reduction and Management Act or RA 10121) coordinated the efforts of various agencies on disaster risk reduction, there remains a need to establish a single, accountable agency in charge of responding to disasters. 

Cayetano’s proposed “Department of Disaster Resilience Act” mandates a sole government department to take over the policy-making, coordination, and monitoring functions of the present ad hoc inter-agency council on disaster risk reduction and management. 

In stressing the need for a separate agency for disaster resilience, Cayetano cited that the Word Risk Index ranks the Philippines third among nations with the highest risk from disasters, next to Vanuatu and Tonga.

“Owing to our geographical and natural features, the Philippines is inherently prone to disasters, both natural and human-made. And more so in the era of climate change, where extreme weather conditions have become the new normal and reality for many Filipinos,” Cayetano pointed out. 

The bill also aims to implement the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, and the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 in addressing disaster risks and climate change. 

The proposed DDR will be equipped with bureaus specifically tasked to deal with disaster prevention and mitigation, preparedness, and humanitarian and disaster responses.

The applicable powers, funds and appropriations of existing government agencies from different departments will then be transferred to the DDR. 

These agencies include the Office of Civil Defense (DND), Climate Change Office, Geo-Hazard Assessment and Engineering Geology Section of the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (DENR), Health and Emergency Bureau (DOH), Disaster Response Assistance and Management Bureau (DSWD), and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). Meanwhile, PAGASA and PHIVOLCS will be attached agencies of the DDR. 

Cayetano is the author of the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act (Republic Act No. 10821), which ensures attention and assistance to children before, during, and after disasters. She also introduced gender provisions in RA 10121, including the promotion of breastfeeding, and the establishment of safe spaces for mothers and children in evacuation centers. #

The Philippines is the third country most vulnerable to disasters according to the World Risk Index report.
Extreme weather conditions and more frequent disasters caused by climate change require a unified and comprehensive response from the government.
In this file photo, then Deputy Speaker interacts with young evacuees at a disaster relief center in Navotas City. Joining her is Mayor John Rey Tiangco. (November, 2018)