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EDITORIAL: Does US Senate Resolution 142 carry weight?

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Does US Senate Resolution 142 carry weight?
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

Does Resolution 142 passed by the US Senate (or S.Res. 142) carry weight? In Washington, maybe; but in Manila, especially under a maverick Chief Executive like Rodrigo R. Duterte, nada.

The world knows that the Philippines gained its complete independence from America in 1946 through the “Tydings–McDuffie Act”, or the Philippine Independence Act, signed by President Harry S. Truman.

This means that for the Philippines, S.R. 142 should be nothing but an expression of the sense of the US Senate regarding the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, the oft-criticized bloody war against illegal drugs launched by the Duterte administration, and the perceived muzzling of critical press and political opposition in the country.

S.R 142, titled “Condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila De Lima, calling for her immediate release, and for other purposes”, calls on the Philippine government to immediately release de Lima, “drop all charges against her, remove restrictions on her personal and work conditions, and allow her to fully discharge her legislative mandate, especially as Chair of the Committee on Social Justice.”

It also urges the government of the Philippines to “guarantee the right to the freedom of the press, and to drop all the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler.” The resolution also calls on the President of the United States to impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (subtitle F of title XII of Public Law 114–32822 U.S.C. 2656 note) with respect to—

(A) members of the security forces and officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings; and

(B) officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of Senator De Lima.

There is no way Malacanang would heed these calls of the US Senate. President Duterte had declared too many times that he wouldn’t mind losing the support of Washington and would prefer to be an ally of Beijing.

Not only that, Malacanang had repeatedly said also that the case of de Lima is now in the hands of the Judiciary. Any intervention on the case of de Lima from the Executive Branch, as what S.R. 142 is demanding, would prove the claims that— as mentioned in the resolution— “indeed, she has been the target of partisan persecution”.

President Duterte’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, in response to S. R. 142, said de Lima and Ressa “have been criminally charged in accordance with the law. They have availed – and are still availing – of legal remedies for their defense.”

So let the wheels of justice grind. If the prosecution couldn’t prove the guilt of both de Lima and Ressa, they would be freed in due time—with or without S.R. 142. The Philippines is an independent country with an independent judicial system. S.R. 142 should not carry any weight in their cases. Otherwise, the resolution would just be contradicting itself.

As 30th SEA Games nears, let us put aside politics and ‘We Win As One’

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As 30th SEA Games nears, let us put aside politics and ‘We Win As One’
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

The Philippines, it seems, has already lost in the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) even before Filipino athletes could compete.

With politics again rearing its ugly head just days before the opening ceremonies on November 30, the Philippines already earned a “zero” scorecard as far as the 2019 SEAG theme is concerned—We Win As One!

Clearly, even an important event that we are hosting couldn’t zip the mouths of our politicians. Every “wise” word they say only further divides the nation, which should not be the case now. 

Can there be a political ceasefire for at least a few weeks?

In support of the Filipino athletes and in the spirit of the Game’s theme, local politicians should have opted to keep their mouths shut first and refrain from grandstanding until after the conclusion of the 30th edition of the biennial meet. That is only until December 11. But no, they just can’t.

Just because of a cauldron—be it overpriced, extravagant or a worthy work or art—focus was shifted to political bickering instead of boosting the morale of the athletes.

We commend Senator Sonny Angara for urging politicians to suspend the debates over the SEAG-related expenses, especially the P50-million cauldron. We also agree with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that this matter should be better looked into right after the SEAG.

However, the damage has been done, obviously. The time spent debating over a cauldron should have been devoted by the opposition and administration in working together to address the needs of Filipino athletes. The issue obviously just distracted the athletes and the Filipino people. It was just another issue that divided the nation ahead of the SEA Games.

Seeing the political leaders working as one would have also united Filipinos so we could cheer as one for our athletes. It would have also united Filipinos in ensuring quality hosting by the Philippines. 

With just a few days before the opening of the games, we hope our politicians will listen to sound advice. Instead of debating, let’s us rally Filipinos to supporting our athletes in each game they will be competing in. Let us urge Filipinos to be good hosts to our neighbors, and let them experience the kind of hospitality that we are known for all over the world.

Putting politics aside, let’s cheer as one, and hopefully, we will also win one as one, at least in the 30th SEA Games.

Just as local hog raisers weep, importers slip into our homes ASF-positive pork products

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Just as local hog raisers weep, importers slip into our homes ASF-positive pork products
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

With the confirmation that a meat processor has shipped pork products contaminated with the African Swine Fever (ASF), we can now understand why local government units (LGUs) in the Visayas and Mindanao have banned pork coming from Luzon.

But what has become more glaring after this development is the need not just to thoroughly check pork products from Luzon, but more importantly the pork shipments from other countries.

The Bureau of Animal Industries (BAI) report said that the ASF-contaminated meat products — hotdogs, longganisa, and tocino — produced by a Manila-based processor actually used imported pork. This means that while the government is too busy culling pigs in farms and backyards in some areas in Luzon to prevent the spread of ASF, the bigger threat to the Philippines’ hog industry is actually coming from the outside. 

While local hog raisers are weeping as they see their sources of livelihood being taken away by authorities for culling, we are letting ASF-positive pork products from abroad into our homes. 

Recent tally showed that the government already culled 62,000 pigs in backyard and commercial farms in Luzon. This, of course, is a very small percentage of the country’s swine inventory, which was estimated at 12.7 million heads as of July 2019.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the population of swine in backyard farms is 8.02 million heads, while stocks in commercial farms stood at 4.68 million heads.

Among the regions, Central Luzon recorded the highest swine inventory of 2.21 million heads. This was followed by CALABARZON and Western Visayas with stocks of 1.53 million heads and 1.23 million heads, respectively. The combined stocks of these three regions accounted for 39.1 percent of the country’s total swine inventory. 

The government had said that ASF has been confirmed in various areas of Bulacan, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Rizal, Quezon City and Nueva Ecija, which means that south of Metro Manila, the disease is still not present.

Stopping the spread of the ASF to protect the country’s swine industry requires joint public-private efforts.

On the part of the private sector, particularly the P300-billion meat processing industry, prudence should be exercised n the sourcing of pork from abroad. If one of its players has been confirmed to be using ASF-contaminated imported pork, who could tell if there are others in its ranks that are doing it also? The industry just gave the LGUs in the Visayas and Mindanao more reasons to ban their products. Lobbying the government to stop the LGUs’ blanket ban on pork products from Luzon should go hand in hand with concrete proofs that their products are really ASF-free. What if those ASF-contaminated hotdogs, longganisa and tocino have found their way into the Visayas and Mindanao?  

On the part of the government, more measures should be taken to ensure pork products from other countries are being properly tested before they are allowed entry into the ports. An automatic ban should be imposed on pork products from countries with known ASF cases.

We are not saying that the government should now ban imported pork while culling is being done in ASF-contaminated farms—not yet. But if more meat processors are found to be importing pork products that are ASF-positive, then that’s another story.

The real enemy, it appears, is not coming from our own backyard. 

EDITORIAL: Socioeconomic cost more compelling reason to raise liquor taxes than revenue generation

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Socioeconomic cost more compelling reason to raise liquor taxes than revenue generation
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

When you buy beer, gin, whiskey or wine in the coming months and find them more expensive, it’s because you’re probably a wife-beater when you are drunk, you drink and drive, you turn violent after a drinking bout, or you have diseases caused by alcoholic drinks like liver cirrhosis that burden public health care.

These are referred to as the socioeconomic costs of drinking alcoholic beverages and the main arguments of the proponents of bills seeking to increase the so-called “sin taxes” anew.

Senator Pia Cayetano, chair of the upper chamber’s ways and means committee, is certainly aware that using revenue generation as a reason for another round of tax hikes on alcoholic drinks will not be enough to muster support both from her fellow lawmakers and the public for her proposed measure.

Higher tax rates

Senate Bill (SB) No. 1074, introduced in the Senate plenary by Cayetano, is estimated to generate P45.7 billion in additional tax revenues on Year 1 of implementation alone. This is by imposing on distilled spirits an ad valorem tax of 20 percent on the net retail price per proof and a specific tax of P90 per proof liter on the first year of its implementation, which will be increased by P10 every year until the fourth year. The specific tax rate will increase by 10 percent every year thereafter.

For fermented liquor (beer) and alcopops, SB 1074 seeks a specific tax rate of P45 per liter on Year 1, increasing by P10 every year until Year 4. The specific tax rate will increase by 10 percent every year thereafter. Wine products will be slapped with a specific tax of P600 per liter for sparkling wines and P43 per liter for still and carbonated wines. These rates will increase by 10 percent every year thereafter.

Revenue-leakage argument

Why revenue generation would never fly, even if it’s to the tune of P45.7 billion that will be funneled to the Universal Health Care (UHC) budget? It’s because lobbyists for the makers and distributors of alcoholic drinks will only throw back the issue of revenue leakage to the government.

The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), for instance, is saying that revenue losses caused by unabated smuggling alone are estimated at P250 billion annually. This is already more than five times the estimated revenues to be generated by the proposed higher taxes on alcoholic beverages. So why raise taxes that would surely hurt the industry and its workers when all the government needs is a better scheme to stop smuggling? 

That’s a tough argument to beat, right? Yes, and Cayetano, the Department of Finance (DOF) and supporters of SB 1074 are aware of that.

This is why they are now putting more emphasis on the socioeconomic costs of drinking alcoholic beverages. The equation is simple: higher taxes would lead to more expensive alcoholic drinks, resulting in less consumption and subsequently less socioeconomic costs.

The ‘moral issue’

As pointed out by Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua of the Strategy, Economics, and Results Group: “We are one with Senator Cayetano in her push for significantly higher rates in alcohol excise taxes. Her analysis is correct that beyond the personal health costs, the socioeconomic costs of alcohol need to be mitigated. The massive economic costs of alcohol abuse justify significantly higher rates. For behavior to change meaningfully, the tax rates have to be high enough.” 

In her sponsorship speech for SB 1074, Cayetano said: “The moral sense of any proposed ‘sin’ tax rate is that it should serve as a deterrent to drinking. It should not be so cheap as to allow minors to afford and have access to these drinks. It should not be so cheap to make it easier for drunk fathers to be wife-beaters, and for traumatized children to lead miserable lives.”

SB 1074 represents Package 2 Plus of the Duterte administration’s comprehensive tax reform program (CTRP). The House of Representatives has approved its counterpart version of this bill last Aug. 20, with an overwhelming 184 votes in favor.

The socioeconomic costs

Cayetano noted that Filipinos are now the top consumers of distilled spirits globally at 11 liters per capita, higher than the global and ASEAN averages of below 10 liters.

Dr. Orlando Ocampo of the Trauma Division of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) said 55 percent of the injured patients” treated in the PGH emergency room “have alcohol on their breath. 25 percent of these injured patients are blood alcohol content positive”.

The Department of Health (DOH) estimates that there has been a total of 10,372 road crashes resulting from alcohol consumption.

Cayetano said alcoholism is associated with at least 39 main diseases, including liver cirrhosis, cancer, pancreatic disease, hypertensive disease, tuberculosis, diabetes, and even behavioral and psychotic disorders.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) also showed that in 2016; 4,431 per 100,000 population of Filipinos died from liver cirrhosis; 16,418 from hypertensive diseases; and 8,526 from tuberculosis–all of which were due to excessive use of alcohol, Cayetano said.

Also, Cayetano stressed that “when heavy drinking is involved, severe physical violence is more likely to take place. Studies found alcohol misuse to be a significant contributor to family violence.”

Preliminary estimates from the DOF indicate that alcohol may have an economic cost of as much as 1.7 percent of gross domestic product (estimated at $331 billion in 2018), equivalent to about a third of the country’s annual health expenditure. That 1.7 percent of GDP is around P281 billion, quite a public burden indeed.

Surely, raising the taxes on alcoholic drinks will hurt the local producers and distributors, and subsequently their employees if lower consumption would lead to retrenchment. But as what President Duterte has pointed out numerous times, we should be looking at the greater good, the benefits to the economy and public as a whole, and not just of a few groups.

When Congress resumes sessions on November 4, we push for the passage of SB 1074.

EDITORIAL: Garage as a prerequisite to car ownership: Individual rights vs public order

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Garage as a prerequisite to car ownership: Individual rights vs public order
Image Credit: Wikipedia / Tabloid PH

Two bills seeking to regulate the sale of motor vehicles—by requiring buyers to show unassailable proofs of ready garage or parking space—are now undergoing committee deliberations at the Senate.

Senate Bill (SB) 368 authored by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and SB 679 authored by Sen. Bong Revilla are timely, with the road-clearing operations of the local government units and concerned state agencies already underway, as ordered by President Duterte.

Already, streets in the metropolis have been rid of mobile and ambulant obstructions, including parked vehicles, which eased the flow of vehicles and people. 

However, as what Filipinos have become accustomed to, concerns were raised over the sustainability of this campaign—with the government’s resolve feared to eventually give in to ningas kugon (fiery at start only die down easily) again. And don’t forget, hard-headed Filipinos would always try to sneak in and test implementation if it would really be round-the-clock.

This is why we believe that in a way, the bills of Revilla and Gatchalian will greatly contribute to institutionalizing the campaign of keeping the streets free of obstructions.

Gatchalian’s SB 368, which covers Metro Manila only, adds as a requirement to vehicle registration a duly notarized affidavit attesting to the availability of a permanent or leased parking space or facility specifically intended for the vehicle to be purchased.

Revilla’s SB 679 expanded the coverage to other traffic-prone areas, such Angeles, Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Dagupan, Davao, Iloilo, Naga and Olongapo.

But during the Senate hearing last October 8, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III already raised possible constitutionality issues that these bills might encounter, particularly the right to ownership and discrimination. “I would like to invite the lawyers’ association to look into the constitutional angle of this, if this is discriminatory or not,” he said. “From the very start, we are disqualifying a certain segment of society from owning motor vehicles.” 

So now, it boils down to this: individual rights versus public order and safety. 

Pimentel is probably worried that even if the bills are passed into law, their implementation would only be stopped once some groups have questioned its constitutionality before the Supreme Court, thus, putting the time and efforts of the lawmakers, as well as public funds, to waste.

Supreme Courts in different countries have had varied decisions when justices were faced with the task of weighing public order and safety versus individual rights.

In the United States, for example, the court has ruled in favor of protecting individual’s right to own guns against laws that sought to curtail it.

What happens now? 

We share the concern of Sen. Pimentel—we don’t want a law with good intentions to just go down the drain because of technicality or constitutionality issues. The lawmakers should do their homework. Consult all stakeholders, especially legal luminaries.

It’s easy to always side with the common good, or the public’s sake. But individuals have their rights too. 

Offhand, we can see some balancing acts happening; as the cliches goes: win-win solutions.

This is the beauty—or undoing—of a democratic society. 

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