Sin taxes, RH bill on Palace priority list

By Ira Pedrasa, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Aug 16 2011 04:03 PM | Updated as of Aug 17 2011 02:53 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Amendments to the sin taxes, a watered-down Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, and a stricter Human Security Act are 3 of 13 Malacañang-backed measures that will merit attention of Congress in the coming months until the next State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Emerging from a meeting with members of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), President Benigno Aquino III told reporters Congress will have its hands full in the coming months to ensure that the priority measures are passed.

The other priority measures are:

  • - a measure delineating the country's final forest line;
  • - the Kasambahay Bill;
  • - strengthening of operations of PTV-4 through changes in its charter;
  • - a measure providing for higher penalties for the theft and destruction of disaster monitoring equipment and early warning devices;
  • - A measure consolidating the Philippine Statistical System;
  • - A measure expanding the scholarship program of the Department of Science and Technology;
  • - A measure strengthening the government’s rural electrification program;
  • - A measure amending the Urban Development and Housing Act;
  • - A measure to protect individual information and data privacy; and,
  • - amendments to the Consumer Protection Act.

Aquino said both houses of Congress will ensure that all concerns of stakeholders will be heard, but minus “the practice of dilatory tactics.”

“A lot of them are already in their advanced stage, but I assume that by the next SONA, we will have a lot to report,” he said.

In the same press conference, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said, “we can’t assure that all these will be passed in a short period of time, but we will have a full blown debate on the matter.”

Sin taxes, revenues

Debates are expected, especially with the more controversial ones, the government leaders said.

Aquino said the restructuring of the sin taxes alone faces road blocks, especially with the recent ruling of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that declared illegal the higher taxes on imported alcohol products.

He said there is a need to simplify the process of collecting the taxes, with the end in view that revenues would be earmarked for public health care.

He said around P60 billion in revenues are expected in return for the restructuring of the sin taxes.

Aquino also gave credence to the suggestion of Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma to strengthen the state-run PTV-4 network.

He said the network would serve as a venue for the government to show programs for the benefit of the Filipinos.

To prevent it from being a “bottomless pit,” the state-run network would already be needing advertising revenues. “To keep it going, it will need P360 million per year.”

Responsible parenthood

Aquino also expects debates in the Responsible Parenthood Bill, but noted the version proposed is already in response to conflicts with critics, especially the Church.

“We tried to remove certain contentious provisions [in the original proposed Reproductive Health Bill], including the ideal family size,” he said.

Malacañang’s version also placed at 11 the appropriate age for sex education, which is a compromise to the 12 years of age or 1 year  old as suggested by the Church.

He said the free access to contraceptives provision will not be removed. In total, there are less than 10 proposed changes to the RH Bill.

Human Security Act

The LEDAC is also pushing for amendments to the Human Security Act, including changes to a provision that a person should be informed if he or she is being surveyed.

“I agree to that amendment…I don’t remember putting that in the original law,” Enrile said.

Another contentious provision in the original law is the P500,000 worth of damages for every day that a person was wrongfully detained, he said.

Freedom of information

Meanwhile, Aquino defended the non-inclusion of the Freedom of Information Bill in the LEDAC meet.

He said it remains a priority of the government but certain details need to be threshed out in order that interests are balanced.

Communications Undersecretary Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III has been tasked to lead a technical working group to balance the contentions of all stakeholders.

“It’s like the freedom of speech. [It’s not absolute] It should not create scandal,” Aquino said.

Asked if an FOI bill will be passed during his term, Aquino merely said: “I’m hoping.”