While the highly controversial Reproductive Health Bill has succeeded the consciousness of all sectors of the society, another bill is yet causing a stir among Filipinos, the youth included - the Sin Tax bill.
The proposed bill aims to increase the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products that are being sold in the country. This means an additional of as much as R30 tax on a pack of cigarettes, and R300 per proof liter for liquor. The Philippines is one of the countries in the world that sells the cheapest cigarettes and liquor.
Some groups have said that the reform bill will benefit the country one way or another. For one, the increased tax will greatly increase government revenues, and the pricier "sin products" may lower the number of its users.
But the University of the Philippines Economics Towards Consciousness (UP ETC) would like to see the issue beyond just raising revenues and lowering the number of consumers. It's all about how the tax revenues may benefit ordinary Filipinos.
Last Wednesday, the student organization held a Sin Tax Consciousness Parade on UP Diliman grounds to voice out their support for the passing of the Sin Tax Bill.
UP ETC, along with students from different organizations such as UP Alyansa, UP Green League and Alpha Phi Beta fraternity, marched around the academic oval of UP Diliman to inform students on the bill currently pending in the Senate. The House will resume hearings on the Bill on Sept. 20.
"We believe there are two issues that the passage of the Sin Tax Bill will answer. Una ang issue ng kalusugan. Alam naman natin na seven out of 10 ng matinding pagkamatay ng mga Pilipino ay dahil sa tobacco-related diseases. More than 200 Filipinos die daily from these diseases. On the economic side, for the past several years matagal nang hindi tinataaas ang tax sa mga produktong ito at ang dami sanang revenue ng government na makukuha na puwede gamitin sa iba't-ibang sectors," explained UP ETC president and senior BS Business Economics student Arjay Mercado.
SAVING LIVES AND MONEY
According to reports furnished, the money the government spends on tobacco-related healthcare issues is more than the revenue it gets from the taxes collected from tobacco and alcohol products. This means that the government is spending more to cure diseases - chronic pulmonary diseases, heart disease, cancer, liver diseases etc. - that are caused by the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
"Makakatulong ito lalung-lalo na sa mahihirap. Kapag titignan natin ang monthly expenditures nila, mas mataas pa ang binibigay nila sa tobacco compared sa edukasyon ng mga anak nila," said Mercado, 19.
Mercado said that it is just right to increase the excise tax to these products since they are not basic commodities. Indeed, if a stick of cigarette costs R5, a smoker who consumes one pack (20 pieces) per day would spend R3,000 a month. For Filipino families who struggle to make ends meet, R3,000 is a lot of money.
In the proposed Bill, the part of the revenues collected will go to government health care programs and alternative livelihood projects for farmers in the tobacco and alcohol industries.
"What's unique about this Bill is that 15 percent of the revenues collected will be given to alternative livelihood for farmers. A certain percentage will go to the universal healthcare, which will cater to all not only to tobacco-related diseases, basically healthcare needs ng mga kababayan natin," Mercado added.
YOUTH CALLED TO ACTION
This youth-initiated action only shows that young people care about this issue, Mercado reiterated. He said that UP ETC has in fact sent its position paper to the Senate regarding the Sin Tax Bill.
"Issue din ito ng youth in a sense that we do care about what happens to the Filipino families, to the workers," he added.
In an earlier report, the National Youth Commission (NYC) stated that there is an increase in the number of young smokers in the country. Two of five Filipinos aged 13 to 15 years old consumed tobacco last year. The increase in cigarette prices may thus curb the number of young smokers.
"Progressive policy making 'to, dapat aware ang mga estudyante sa mga polisiya na pinapasa ng gobyerno para hindi sila nagtatanong, sa halip bilang UP student sila ang nageeducate sa mahihirap at sa nakakausap nila about Sin Tax bill. Kailangan may sariling appreciation from the community and maganda nga ang mga students ang nag spearhead ng education sin tax," shares UP Alyansa chairperson Ace Ligsay.
UP ETC further plans to push the passing of the bill. They will help in the nationwide signature campaign of raising one million signatures in support of the sin tax bill. They also plan to do forums and information campaign on the said bill.
"Isa sa mga objectives namin is to raise people's awareness about issues. We do this para maintindihan ng mga tao 'yung tinatalakay natin. Hindi lang to influence them but to be informed, kung sasama sila dito, alam nila 'yung issue, alam 'yung pinaglalaban. We'd like them to sign the manifesto because we need to collect at least a million signatures. At least may contribution ang youth sector," Mercado said.