By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent
Doctors from “womb to tomb,” who reportedly “have 100,000 million patients nationwide,” threatened to boycott and campaign against the candidacy of re-electionist senators and House members in the May elections who would block the increase in tobacco sin tax.
In a manifesto, the doctors and specialists from at least 30 medical societies, stressed they would rally against candidates objecting to raise the tax on cigarettes, which can be used to fund the Universal Health Care (UHC) program.
The UHC, which is awaiting the signature of President Duterte to become a law, seeks to enroll all Filipinos under a state-backed health insurance program both as paying and non-paying members.
In a show of force, the presidents and some of the founders of various medical organizations gathered at Annabel’s Restaurant in Quezon City and aired their concerns on the need for the increase.
While recognizing the right of patients to choose their own candidates, health advocates led by former Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) President and Philhealth Director Dr. Anthony Leachon, and Dr. Antonio Dans of the National Academy of Science and Technology, said they would persuade them not to support the candidacy of those opposing or stalling the price hike of cigarettes.
Speaking at a press conference, Leachon gave a “conservative” estimate of 5 to 6 million votes that any anti-sin tax re-electionist would lose in the coming mid-term elections.
“We hope that they would have the same passion and urgency of doctors who see that the country would be at risk if there is no fund for the UHC,” stressed Leachon who said the funding for the UHC’s implementation in the long run would come from the sin taxes.
He raised alarm that if this bill on the increase of sin tax on cigarettes would not be passed before the 17th Congress adjourns due to the start of the national campaign on February 9, it will be back to zero and all efforts would be futile.
Dans noted that while they recognize budget from Philhealth, PAGCOR and PCSO for the first two years of the UHC implementation, they, however, expressed concern over funding for the succeeding years.
For its first year of implementation, UHC would need a funding requirement of PHP 257 billion and PHP 271 billion for the second year.
He also dismissed claims by tobacco companies that the imposition of sin taxes failed to lower the incidence of smoking, increased cases of smuggling cigarettes and prejudiced the income of tobacco farmers.
Sen. JV Ejercito, principal author and sponsor of UHC who has also been pushing for a PHP 90 per cigarette pack, said strong lobbying from tobacco companies watered-down tax increase against tobacco products.
He also cited the presence of congressmen from tobacco-producing provinces who are exerting efforts to stall an increased tax in cigarettes.
“The real battleground in this issue is not the Senate but in the House,” emphasized Ejercito as he exhorted the anti-tobacco advocates to exert more efforts in convincing House members on their advocacy.
He also conceded there is not enough time for the Senate to address the measure although Senate ways and means committee. Chairman Sen. Sonny Angara set a January 29 committee hearing on the proposed resolutions on the increase in cigarette tax.
Ejercito’s measure sought to raise the sin tax to PHP 90 per pack while Sen. Manny Pacquiao wanted a PHP 60 per pack.
The House version of the sin tax reform bill, which was passed on third and final reading, imposed the additional tax of PHP 2.50 on every pack of cigarettes.
Leachon divulged they have been seeking for a PHP 90 per pack of cigarette to have a leeway in the event of a “haggle.”
“While we are asking for the moon, they might give us the star so that PHP 60 per pack of cigarette would do,” said Leachon.
Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography said, “We want to hit two birds with one serious honest-to-goodness health measure although we don’t have the luxury of time since we only have nine session days left before break. We have nine days to go,” he further stated.
Once the UHC is implemented, he anticipated an increase in the number of patients and claimants as more become aware of the free medical treatment.