MANILA, Philippines - Why is Congress even debating the need to impose higher taxes on so-called sin products like tobacco and alcohol?
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago raised this question on Monday during deliberations on the sin tax bill, wherein she expressed support for the version proposed by acting ways and means committee chairman Sen. Franklin Drilon.
Santiago stressed that the sin tax bill, if passed into law, would save lives.
She added that legislators should not be concerned too much about the effects on the profits of companies that produce cigarettes and liquor.
"What is the worth of one Filipino life? Why are we concerned about corporate profit … and the livelihood of farmers?" Santiago said, her voice raised.
She added that under a sin tax law, tobacco farmers will be given assistance in finding new crops to farm or other sources of livelihood.
The senator also pointed out that controlling the sale of tobacco is part of international law, particularly the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
She said the Philippines is bound by this convention.
"This is the most widely embraced treaty in the history of the UN. No other treaty has been so widely accepted," Santiago said. "What are we debating here?"
"I don't see how we can have any moral choice on this matter. The facts speak for themselves," she added.
Drilon's version of the measure raises current taxes on tobacco and alcohol to give government incremental revenues of between P40 billion and P45 billion per year.
Drilon told Santiago that his bill aims to save lives by raising the prices of sin products.
He noted that an estimated 2.9 million people would quit smoking if the sin tax bill becomes law.
Some 79,000 lives will also be saved from smoking-related deaths, he added.
"Unless you put it beyond the reach of everyone, you cannot put an end to this vice that many Filipinos suffer from," Drilon said.
Santiago herself filed a version of the sin tax bill with projected revenues of about P60 billion.
This is the same as the version that the Aquino government proposed.
Sen. Ralph Recto earlier endorsed to the Senate a version with incremental revenues of P15 billion-P20 billion.
He was criticized for allegedly watering down the measure, and he resigned as chair of the ways and means committee almost a week after presenting the bill on the floor.