On youth smokers, sin tax, RH bill

News Release
November 15, 2012
On youth smokers, sin tax, RH bill
Transcript of Kapihan sa Senado with Sen. Pia Cayetano
(Excerpts)

Note: Reposted from the Senate website, see original post here.

On smoking among the youth

It’s a problem that I feel has long been ignored. You know, we focus on many other problems of the youth but many times, we don’t realize that the future problems that we have as adult are a product of our lifestyle choices and the environment that we lived in as youth. So, today we have the opportunity to change a generation of Filipinos and make them healthier by preventing them from falling into this bad habit and there are many ways of addressing that. I don’t claim to have the one and only answer through the Graphic Health Warning Bill and the Sin Tax Bill. However, studies have shown all-over the world that these are important components. These are legislations that will make cigarettes more expensive and less accessible to the youth and health warning on the packaging which will be, as the survey shows, a clear deterrent to them. So, definitely, there is a priority and sad to say because the lobby for tobacco is very strong, there has not been enough awareness. I don’t think we’ve done enough to prevent these future smokers who are the consumers of these multi-national companies in the future. Five sticks a day will not make them rich if you’re talking of one person but in about half a million youth, how many of them will become chain smokers. How many will have the habit of half a pack to a pack and then take it up after. Those are the consumers of these tobacco companies and that is why we know for a fact that no matter what they say, they are targeting the youth. Although we have already banned advertising but if you look back, why would they show youthful people, young boys and girls, teenage-looking bikini-clad young people enjoying life with cigarettes in their hand? Why else? Because they want to promote this lifestyle among the youth. So, naglolokohan tayo if we say that hindi tina-target ang youth.

On the Drilon version of the Sin Tax Bill

As a health advocate, my preference would be the Defensor version because I would really prefer to eradicate smoking in the same way that Senator Miriam said na hindi namin trabaho sa Senado na intindihin ‘yung profits ng mga korporasyon. Ganoon din ang feeling ko. Ako po ang chairman ng Committee on Health, nanay po ako, my objective is to protect the health of the Filipino people. It does not mean, in any way, that I don’t care about the Filipinos who really on the tobacco industry for their livelihood kasi obligasyon din naman ng gobyerno to create other job opportunities and that is already contained in the bill. Hindi ho issue ‘yon however, I will support the Drilon bill and of course any amendment to increase the revenues for that because I have been a legislator long enough to know to get the best of what we wanted. There are also compromises that we have to make. So, kung iyon lang ang tingin n gating chairperson na kayang suportahan for now, I will not make it difficult and insist on something higher. But of course, if there’s enough support for it, kasama ako sa grupo na magpu-push for a higher revenue, closer to the Miriam Santiago version.

Affordable pa rin sa youth with Drilon version. That’s my problem with it. I had the figures computed that currently, the Marlboro Light per stick is P1.6. Under the Drilon version, maganda naman ‘yung increase niya it’s P2.5. But what I really want is for it to be beyond reach. Based on the survey, if the cigarette is priced at P10.00 per stick, smokers would consider quitting, the youth smokers. ‘Yon ang gusto ko. Bakit hindi tayo kumakain ng caviar? Sino sa inyo ang nakakakain ng caviar araw-araw? Dahil mahal. So, lalo na for the youth na binu-budget nila ang kanilang allowance. We also have the figures that tell us how they spend their allowance and the top expense is food. Second is the cellphone load and computer games. Third is the vices and cigarette. Pero kung mahal ‘yon, di sana mapunta na lang sa mas magandang pagkakagastusan ‘yung 17% that they use for vices. If it’s out of their reach, then they have no choice. Ganoon lang ‘yon.

Ako talaga, I would be for a higher price but given as it is, we can’t change everything overnight. Then, I guess, our second option is to up our awareness campaigns, our deterrent campaigns, including the graphic health warnings. Again, let me say that I’ve noticed that the bulk of youth smokers are in the class D and E which is the same with our adult smokers. To me, this also tells us that wala silang libangan or healthy lifestyle activities to engage in. The biggest dropout rate is also in that class. If you look at the quality of education that they’re receiving, siguro nagiging less ang priority ng extra-curricular activities which you will see as a priority in private schools and even in public schools that have proper funding. These are the youth who have nothing to do. Highlight siguro ng day nila ang mag-light up ng cigarette. That is where the government can come in, as well as private sectors, to provide activities to veer them away from this very detrimental habit.

When I sponsored the [Graphic Health Warning Bill], si Senator Drilon was very excited kasi nga he is also personally very dedicated to help prevent smoking, and he asked me if he could take a more active role in also defending the measure. If you recall, he also gave a sponsorship speech. At that time, hindi namin alam na siya na rin ang mag-sponsor ng sin tax. In any case, even the RH Bill which is as you know is my priority, nothing has moved this week because the whole time of the plenary session has been taken up by sin tax. Of course, there’s no problem with him kapag sinabi ko na umpisahan ko na ‘to. Wala kaming nasingit na kahit anong bill. On hindsight, I regret na ‘yon ang naging usapan because just like impeachment, I would have moved that we have morning sessions or Thursday sessions to accommodate our other bills. It did not occur to me na ang effect nitong paki-prioritize ang sin tax ay wala namang gagalaw na iba. Medyo sumobra ng konti ang focus sa sin tax.

Ang concern lang namin is on the earmarking. In as much as were happy that these will be significant revenues that will be earmarked for health, the experience that we had under the GMA administration was that every budget while we were following up, the revenue allocation that was result of the sin tax, hinahanap namin kung nasaan iyon, ang eksplanasyon sa amin was nandyan na ‘yan sa budget ng health. For example ang budget ay X amount, hindi nila ginawang X plus the collection ng sin tax. Hindi naman nag-increase ang health budget because effectively that revenue will be used to subsidize other government expenditures which then is a lie because that is telling people it is for health but it is not. So, we want to be very sure and we will make sure that the department secretaries who are involved in this process will commit to us that the legislative intention is very clear that this is additional income on top of whatever health budget is agreed upon.

On the Graphic Warning Bill

If you recall last Congress, in the Lower House, I heard a congressman saying that smoking is not detrimental to health. In the Senate, a senator said to me, sa dami ng health bills, why am I prioritizing smoking. Mas marami pa raw na importante. He proceeded to say that he will not believe anything unless I have data and statistics. I gave him everything which is a lot because graphic health warning is already being implemented in other countries and there were lots of studies. Then, he said he doesn’t believe anything. What can we do? The same people who are vocal in opposing the sin tax are opposing the graphic health warning that’s why hindi siya umusad noong last Congress. I’m hoping na umusad siya ngayon kasi we have a Congress now that will support it and it will be a partner bill to the sin tax.

On discouraging the youth to smoke

There’s no single solution. It has to be a combination of these measures. Studies have shown us that lahat ‘yan has to be practiced including ‘yung adults to be good examples.

On RH Bill

As a senator defending a bill on the senate floor, I can’t deny that it is disappointing to me and a bit offensive for a colleague to tell me that wala sila paki-alam, na wala sila kabalak-balak bigyan ng oras ‘yong bill mo. As Sen. Miriam said yesterday, I was sitting beside her while she was being interviewed, she said it was unheard of for a senator to simply just say I will not make time, I don’t know when. Normally, from my humble experience, and again I refer to Sen. Miriam’s own observations, you do go to a senator and ikaw ‘yung makikiusap out of courtesy. Kasi alam mo naman pinaghihirapan naman ng sponsor ‘yun no matter how much you disagree with it. You acknowledge that it is a piece of work that a colleague of yours has spent time with and you courteously ask them more time to study. Marami naman po ako pinagdaanan na ganun. In fact, I have a bill, the PhilHealth bill, which is pending also because may nakikipagusap na kailangan pag-aralan. So, nadadaan naman po tayo sa magandang paguusapan. Pero ang mabigat sa akin ay I find it offensive to the Filpino women. I find it offensive that women’s needs and women’s rights are no longer important. I find it offensive that what is considered a human right – access to reproductive health, access to contraceptive–can be put aside in one of the highest government bodies, in fact, elected officials, as if na bale wala naman ang buhay naming mga kababaihan.

I can fight for myself but what about those women who have no voice? What about the women who need access to these services so they can be responsible parents? I owe it to them and I owe it to them to fight for legislation that will protect their rights. So, I am offended on behalf of these women.

The records will bear me out that I have been very patient in accommodating the needs of every senator to give them time to interpellate and to amend. In fact, Sen. Recto was supposed to amend this week. Kaya lang siya din, naka taya sa Sin Tax. Hindi po ako unreasonable na tao. So nag-antay talaga ako sa kanya hanggang alas-otso. Pero nakita ko siya, pagod na pagod na siya, so I did not insist. Yesterday, I was also waiting for him and nakipag usap siya sa akin na Monday na daw and I understand that. Pero, kung sabihin mo sa aking mag antay ako hanggang maputi na ang uwak, iba naman yang usapan.

We can be reasonable here but when we know that we are dealing with people who have no intention of honoring the rights of women then I also have to stand up and fight for these rights.

I will proceed with Sen. Recto’s amendments on Monday and then after that there will be Senators Enrile and Sotto, who repeatedly told me in the past na after his turno-en-contra tapos na siya, so I don’t know why suddenly mayroon pa siya but karapatan naman niya. I think it is reasonable to give them a day and I will give them a day.

We all know that every day that I patiently wait is one more day that this bill will be delayed. And I know, as they know, and they know whom I am talking about, their objective is not to bring this to a vote. I think every senator should be held accountable for the vote that they make for the future of every Filipina in this country.

And I want to say also, for those who have their doubt, that this is an election issue. Women and couples will be looking at senators and congressmen on their votes on this issue. For those who believe that the popular vote is “No” to contraceptives and “No” to family planning, I beg to disagree. Look at all the surveys. The popular vote is to provide access and rights to information and reproductive health services to women. That is the popular vote. Make no mistake about it.

That is a traditional makalumang point of view, na takot silang sabihin kasi takot sila sa Catholic vote. But the Catholic vote is a ‘yes’ to RH vote. Look at the surveys, SWS and all the other survey groups have all come out with those surveys, repeatedly. That the popular vote is making RH available to people so there is nothing for politicians to fear. Yes, you will have one or two groups that will not be happy with your vote but on any issue, there will be people who have different views. The time I think has come that politicians are held accountable for their votes. Huwag na tayong bumoto sa taong sitting on the fence. Maybe, sa dating panahon you can get away with that, safe ka parati but if you look at the many issues today, people expect to see where you stand and that is my call: For all my fellow legislators, especially those reelectionists and to the Filipino people, to hold every legislator, even at the local level, to hold them accountable to issues that are important for you. Don’t let them sit on the fence, require them to take a position.

After Sen. Recto, I will make myself available to Sen. Enrile and now Sen. Sotto, which is new to me, and I humbly request that they make themselves available. If not, then I will avail of the remedies available to me under the Senate Rules.

Under the Senate Rules, by majority vote of the body, we can move a measure forward. We can close the period of interpellation or we can close the period of amendments. So, I can avail of those remedies. Do I look like somebody who would threaten to do something if I do not have the means to pull it through?

I do not group the senators whether they are reelectionists or not so I would need to take a few seconds to see whether the bulk of the “No” votes are reelectionists or not. Parang hindi naman and that is what I am proud to say about the Senate. I’m sure mayroon namang may concern. Siyempre, if you are a reelectionist you will try to cover all the bases. So, that is still an issue they will consider, and for those of them who have consultants na matatanda na, ‘yun talaga and magiging advice nila kasi nga it’s a traditional issue na alam nila sensitive. But now-a-days, what is the mean average age of our electoral base? I think it is getting younger and younger, so these are the voters who will like to see a positive vote on the RH bill. So that’s also my message for my colleagues who are reelectionists, including those in the house.

This is not just a mere women’s cause. Every child that is born must be born to an environment where they will be prepared to be taken care of, with all the facilities that a parent is required to give a child. The sin is giving birth to a child whom you cannot take care of.

UNFPA: State of the World Population 2012 report

The UNFPA has come out with its report for 2012 and sadly, the figures in the Philippines are very bad. This is available in UNFPA. Org.

If you look at our average annual rate of population change ‘yung sa Philippines is 1.7%. ‘Yung figure na ‘yun that’s the population growth compared to Indonesia 1.0 lang compared to Malaysia, medyo malapit pero mas mababa pa rinang Malaysia 1.6,Vietnam 1, Thailand 0.5 I’m sure many of you will recall with Thailand I think 15 years ago embarked on the population management program pareho lang tayo and now yung kanilang population growth rate is only 0.5. Now, let me address to those who are very anti-population, the studies, hindi naman dapat dini-debate ‘to the studies are very clear. Population is direct-relate to development. What good is a high population of people who are not educated and who are ignorant. All they will do is feed a feudal society. They have no skill, they have no education, they will not be able to improve their standard of life. So, kalimutan na natin yung argument na ‘yan na walang link ang population development or that a big population is development. It is not! It is not! There is no issue there. I urge all of you to take time to read this report and then very quickly, yung fertility rate naman natin is 3.1. You compare that with Malaysia 2.6, Vietnam 1.7, Thailand 1.5 and we ask ourselves how come we are not competitive with our neighboring countries, look how many mouths we have to feed and we continue this terrible cycle of parents giving birth to children they cannot take care of. You know what countries we are at the same rate with? These are countries na lumaki tayo, hindi naman sa pagmamalaki, pero ang feeling natin angat tayo sa kanila. Don’t be surprised but the countries nakapareho na natin is Gabon, Haiti, Honduras, Lesotho, Namibia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. My fellow Filipinos, tama ba yun? Na paurong tayo? Because we refuse to acknowledge that women and families have a right to plan their families and the population is directly related to development. So what is the challenge? I challenge the leadership of this country to take a more positive, a more pro-active position on this issue.

On Kerry Kennedy’s statement

I read that and I was also, I felt the pain this was written by the daughter ‘diba? The letter no? I felt her pain because if you passionately believe in something and then those words that you use to describe or to support this thing that you believe in, is used for something contrary to what you believe in. Napakasakit din ‘nun. So I think that is also something that this is already the aired of a daughter of Robert Kennedy ‘no? I felt that should be acknowledged and I understand where they’re coming from because if you use any words that I say now, if I say that the we must value every life. And you turn it around to say that I am against family planning, I would be up at my arms, I would jumping up and down and saying you know don’t use my words and twist it for your purposes because that phrase that I used was used to mean this, not that, so I understand whether it’s coming from.

On RH vote

They never like to do that [openly reveal vote] because you know how we all take pride in our vote. It’s how we make a difference in the Senate and so being a very sensitive issue, I do believe some of my colleagues either, one, will keep their cards close to their chests, they want to make the statement or their own or some of them are not decided. All I can say is that I believe I have the votes. I’m sure that as I speak, mayroon na naglolobby to get the votes that have been already committed to RH. With or without the votes I will continue this passionate fight but I am happy to know that I have enough numbers to get it passed. They have one or two people opposing it but at the end of the day, I do have more than 12, then they are trying to delay it as much as possible knowing na wala na sila magagawa kasi dalawa na lang sila nag ooppose.

Kasi si Sen. Recto naman in good faith naman. The records will bear me out. Senators JPE and Sotto have taken the floor the most times on this issue. If I’m not mistaken, nine times si Sen. Enrile and ten times si Sen. Sotto. Siguro naman sapat na panahon na yun. As sponsor, I have been given the right to call the shots to set the time frame. Pag sinabi kong last week or this week ready ako, karapatan ko na siguro to move forward and take the next steps necessary.

On the ethics case filed against Sen. Sotto

Well, I’m not a member but as chairman before, the position that we always take is of course our colleagues and the Filipino people have the right to file. Of course, it’s my brother Alan who is the chair and I know him enough. I trust that he will do the right thing and give due course to complaints that are filed with due respect to the rights also of the respondent.

[Photo] YOSI ‘BREAK’: Sen Pia Cayetano and youth representatives show their support for the sin tax by breaking a giant symbolic cigarette. PRIB photo by Joseph Vidal

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