Malacañang yesterday expressed willingness to protect the employees of the defunct investment firm Aman Futures Group that reportedly victimized 12,000 investors in the face of difficulties in repatriating the firm’s owners due to the absence of an extradition treaty with Malaysia.
Relatedly, Sen. Edgardo Angara has urged Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to oversee the manhunt for the Aman executives and serve justice to the victims.
“Someone should be in charge of this and I urge De Lima to really be personally in charge of this huge scam,” Angara said.
In a radio press briefing, deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said President Aquino has ordered a speedy manhunt for the the perpetrators of the scam.
“There have been employees of the defunct firm who already surfaced for fear of their lives. We are willing to give them security if needed,” Valte said.
Reacting to reports on some employees of Aman Futures Group Philippines Inc. voluntarily coming to the Philippine authorities to provide crucial information about the scam in an apparent effort not to be dragged into the legal snarl by turning against their former bosses, as state witnesses, the Palace mouthpiece likewise appealed to the 12,000 victims to remain calm.
The offices of the Aman group were reportedly ransacked by irate investors and employees abducted.
Valte said law enforcement agencies are coordinating with officials in Malaysia, where the president of the firm, Manuel Amalilio, is reportedly hiding.
Angara lamented the fact that the alleged key players in the scam had already fled the country even before government agencies could seek the issuance of hold-departure orders and freezing of their assets.
“They have been engaging in numerous publicities yet they have not come up with any results. The suspects have managed to escape with their (supposed) loot,” he said.
“I call on to the concerned authorities, to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and other agencies on top of this investigation to do their job first and ensure that they deliver the desired results before engaging in any publicity (work),” the senator said.
Angara said a number of professionals, teachers and even farmers have fallen prey to the unscrupulous group and lost their hard-earned money.
He called on De Lima to consider creating a special task force of financial expects from the Department of Finance and even from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas “because (what needs to be done) is more than police work.”
Aquino won’t take ‘no’ for answer
President Aquino,who refuses to have a “no” from the Senate as an answer to his P40-billion sin tax measure, yesterday virtually issued his marching order for the senators to approve on second and third reading of the sin tax bill next week which presumably will do away with the usual interpellations from members of the Senate.
The sin tax is a measure imposing higher taxes on all local brands of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks following the issuance of a certification by President Aquino before leaving for Cambodia.
Aquino certified as urgent Senate Bill 3299 or the sin tax reform bill which will allow the passage of the Senate version of the proposed measure without the usual three days interval rule, Sen. Franklin Drilon said.
Drilon, acting chairman of the ways and means committee and the sponsor currently defending the bill on the floor, has set his sights on wrapping up floor deliberations on the measure which seeks to generate P40 billion to P45 billion incremental revenues from excise tax collection on Monday.
But Sen. Gregorio Honasan warned against insisting on the voting of the bill on Monday unless all of the concerns of senators have been addressed by Drilon.
“Drilon has issued a deadline (on deliberations of the measure), that by Monday, he will exhaust all means for us to vote on it. But there are still a number of senators who have lined up to interpellate on the committee amendments contained in his (substitute)
version and there are those who will also introduce their amendments. We don’t know if indeed we will be able to vote on Monday,” he said in an interview with dzMM radio.
“We should not be made to rush its approval because if we will be made to just meet the deadline, we might only regret whatever decisions we will make because there is no guarantee (that the figures) will be realized. It’s all pure projections,” he commented.
Honasan urged colleagues to scrutinize carefully all the details and consider all factors such as the performance of the revenue collecting agencies and the effects in the past few years of government policy imposing higher fees and taxes.
He reasoned out that if the taxes are too high for the local products, it will be the smuggling syndicates that will benefit from this—and the local tobacco industry may die.
“What we need is balance, protecting the inetrests of both the sick and the livelihood of the farmers and growers,” Honasan stressed.
The certification, which was signed by the President before he leaves for Cambodia to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, gives authority to the Senate to vote on a measure on second and third reading without having to observe the three days interval rule, explained Drilon.
As a rule, a bill must undergo three readings on three separate days except when the President certifies a bill as urgent to meet a public calamity or national emergency.
There is no known public calamity nor national emergency to justify the Aquino’s marching order for the Senate to pass the sin tax,
But Drilon insists that “the President certified as urgent the sin tax reform bill for he believes the passage of this very important piece of legislation will buttress government health agenda and address the high prevalence of smoking in the country,” said Drilon.
“Pursuant to the provisions of Article VI, Section 26 (2) of the 1987 Constitution, I hereby certify to the necessity of the immediate enactment of Senate Bill 3299 to address the urgent need to restructure the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products in order to enhance revenue generating potential of the tax system, and utilize the incremental revenues therefrom to augment the funding for the universal healthcare program of the government,” the President said in the certification letter.
“We are in the final stretch. We are only one step farther before the passage of this bill; but, certainly, without the support of the President, we would not have gone this far,” said Drilon who also chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
Drilon said SB 3299, which faced a thorough scrutiny of senators during the five extended session days, will face individual amendments on Monday prior to its ratification.
“After all interpellations on the committee amendments were closed and the committee amendments having been accepted, then we now go to the period of individual amendments wherein the Senators can propose amendments. If these amendments are accepted by the Chamber, they will be considered as part of the bill.”
“I am confident that our colleagues have seen and realized the importance of this reform measure to a great majority both as a health measure and as a finance bill. I am confident that they will vote for its passage when session resumes on Monday,” ended Drilon.
Honasan said the pending sin tax bill should address not only the health issues or the universal health care of Filipinos but also the welfare and displacement of our local tobacco farmers.
“I have nothing against the benefits of the sin tax bill especially since the eventual beneficiaries will be the majority of our countrymen who cannot afford adequate health care. But I am concerned about the thousands of tobacco farmers who will be uprooted and displaced by the taxation system. In three years’ time, the low-priced cigarettes will be taxed more than a thousand percent.” Honasan said
The senator added that whether the government will admit it or not, the new taxes will be favoring imported brands while subjecting our local brands to a slow death.
“Imported cigarettes will have a heyday including smugglers who will take advantage of the situation. Why can’t we come up with a taxation system that will not cripple our local tobacco industry,” Honasan said.
“There has to be a win-win situation in all this and I believe balancing of interests is the key.”
Meanwhile, tobaco farmers reiterated Thursday their appeal to Aquino in pulling the plug on a proposal imposing excessively high excise tax rates on local cigarettes, saying that he is their last hope in blocking this grossly unfair and ill-conceived revenue plan.
The Philtobacco Growers Association (PTGA), an organization representing tobacco farmers and workers nationwide, expressed dismay over the “unsympathetic response” of the President’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, to their plea.
Lacierda disputed the farmers’ 1,000 percent figure. He also said that even if taxes are raised extremely high, “the price of cigarettes in the Philippines would still be among the lowest in the region.”
“The facts are clear. Senator Drilon wants to raise taxes on low priced cigarettes which makes up 64 percent of the market. from P2.72 today to P32 in 2016. That’s a 1,076 percent hike,” “PTGA president Saturnino Distor pointed out.
As for Lacierda’s claim that cigarette prices in the Philippines would remain the lowest in the region despite the steep tax increases, Distor was shocked.
“It doesn’t matter what people pay for cigarettes in Singapore, Thailand or anywhere else. Filipino household budgets are based on Filipino salaries and Filipino prices and the Drilon bill will dramatically increase the cost of living for ordinary Filipinos.”
Distor urged the Government to work with the industry on a compromise.
“We are one with the administration on the need for more revenues. But the solution is not to kill the industry that provides the government with these revenues, but a compromise measure that would work for all of us.”
In a press briefing, deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said certifying a bill as urgent will enable the members of the upper legislative chamber to keep the boll rolling and resume the snail-paced process. With a bill already certified by the chief executive as “urgent”, senators may soon be seen deliberating at the plenary hall for the bill’s second reading — followed by the third and final ready on the same day.
Underscoring the necessity of the measure, Valte said the expected government collection from the implementation of the tax measure was made an integral part of the 2013 national budget even as she claimed that non-passage will adversely affect it.
She went on to claim that revenues seen pouring in as an offshoot ot its implementation would be used by the government to bankroll the government’s health care services which include building rural health units and public hospitals and expanding health care coverage for the poor.
“There are indeed a lot of services that would be displaced in the event the measure doesn’t earn the Senate nod. These are mainly on health care. The certification of the President only shows the support for this particular measure,” Valte said.
As this developed, visiting International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde kept his composure as President Aquino was a no-show at the scheduled meeting.
The IMF official went as far as issuing a statement that sees the IMF supportive of the administration’s tax-generating measures via the controversial sin tax reform bill.
She also suggested other possible sources of government revenues, particularly hinting on tax levies on telecommunication services which include calls and texts.,
“If the so-called sin tax [bill] is voted on [on] Monday, that will be great progress for the revenue collection of the country,” Lagarde told the Palace reporters who felt extremely disappointed on seeing just Lagarde, instead of him plus the President answering media queries..
“So, let’s hope that this bill would be voted on Monday and that tax collections would result from this piece of legislation,” she added.
She failed ot meet the President whom Valte said was sick and had to cancel all his appointments for yesterday even as he claimed that a serious administration should consider slapping taxes on mobile phone services such as text messaging and calls.
“If more is needed in the pure decision of the government of the Philippines, then telecommunication would satisfy those two criteria,” said Lagarde who discussed this with Vice President Jejomar Binay/
“Well, I was actually told this morning by the Vice President [Jejomar Binay] that the text coverage, if you will, or the telephone coverage, was way in excess of a hundred percent. It was in the range of 112 percent which clearly satisfies one of the two criteria for what we call a good taxation,” she continued.
The criterion for a “good” tax being broad-based and having a small rate.
Friday, 12 October 2012 00:00 Published in Headlines
Pointed missiles flew the way of Sen. Ralph Recto yesterday for producing a greatly diluted sin tax bill or Senate bill 3299 with his colleague Sen. Miriam Santiago claiming of being “gobsmacked-speechless” with Recto’s sponsored bill compared with the original Senate bill 3249 or “An Act restructuring the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products” that Santiago sponsored.
Santiago called for university students and social media netizens to join the war against the committee version of the sin tax bill which she calls “the death star bill.”
“At present, 25 million Filipino youth who are 18 years old are smokers. If they continue to smoke, half of them will die” she said.
“I am gobsmacked — speechless with amazement — at the committee report. It bears no recognizable resemblance to my bill. It is an abject surrender to the very rich and very powerful tobacco and alcohol lobby,” she said.
Protracted debates are expected in the coming weeks at the Senate which could put the passage of the sin tax bill hanging on balance to meet its target approval before the year ends.
Following Recto’s submission of his committee on ways and means report on the proposed restructuring of the excise tax law, where he junked the Department of Finance’s (DoF) projected P60 billion additional annual revenues and instead introduced a version allowing the government to generate P15 billion to P20 billion in the initial year, senators appear poised for a clash over the recommendations of Recto’s panel.
Some were candid in admitting their displeasure at the panel report, while there are those who came to Recto’s defense saying that the Palace-backed reformed tax scheme on alcohol and tobacco products was too ambitious.
Santiago compared her bill with that recommended by the committee report, known as Senate bill 3299, and sponsored by Recto, chairman of the ways and means committee.
“Under the Santiago bill, government will raise P60 billion for the first year. By contrast, the Recto bill will earn only P15 billion. The foregone revenue could go to universal health care, such as more hospitals, rural health units, and barangay health stations,” she said.
“When cigarettes and liquor are cheap, more people will use them. The Philippines already has one of the lowest prices of cigarettes and alcohol in Southeast Asia. That’s why for every hour, 10 Filipinos die from tobacco use. Smoking causes 240 deaths every single day,” she said.
Santiago, an international law expert, said under a treaty called the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” the tax on tobacco should be 70 percent of the price of the product.
The tobacco treaty aims to reduce the number of smokers from 28 percent to 25 percent by 2014.
Santiago said this is the reason her bill imposes a tax of P30 per pack of cigarettes by 2015.
“My bill imposes a unitary tax system, as recommended by the World Health Organization. The Recto bill uses a 3-tier tax rate for tobacco and alcohol products, making them cheaper and thereby encouraging their use,” she said.
The senator said that the unitary tax system which she used in her bill is more simplified and therefore easier to administer. She contrasted it with the multi-tier system, which she said authorizes tax officials to classify brands according to tiers, a practice which invites corruption and abuses.
Santiago said that while her bill will save 4.15 million smokers at the first year, the Recto bill will save only 2.93 million smokers.
“My bill will raise the prices of cigarettes and alcohol, but it will save the lives of 240 Filipinos everyday. Cigarette smoke contains 60 chemicals which cause cancer,” Santiago said.
To the argument that cigarettes and alcohol are the entertainment of the poor, Santiago retorted that the purpose of entertainment is relaxation and not death.
Santiago, member of the ways and means committee, said that she signed the committee report with the annotation: “Only for the purpose of getting the bill out to the plenary session,” in order that debates on the bill can start on the floor of the Senate.
Recto in his sponsorship speech last Oct. 10, said “the danger of pushing taxes up too much is that it may reach the point of diminishing tax returns. As in any product, a higher tax rate does not automatically result in higher collections.”
That was his reason behind proposing a “watered down” bill. According to Senator Recto, his recommended increase in excise tax on tobacco products is practical and realistic. However, the bill is far from the recommendations of the tobacco control groups and ignored the rationale behind increasing tobacco tax, the group HealthJustice Philippines said.
The committee’s version of the sin tax reform bill recommended a mere shift from the four-tier system to a three-tier system and imposed marginal increases on tobacco products, it said.
These are similar to the recommendations suggested by Philip Morris during the ways and means committee hearings, it added.
“The tobacco industry should not be considered a stakeholder in tobacco control. It is important to keep in mind that this bill is first and foremost for the purpose of improving the country’s health situation. As leaders, it is their responsibility to protect and promote all Filipinos’ right to health, not compromise it,” Irene Reyes, managing director of HealthJustice Philippines, said.
President Aquino apparently had moved to salvage the government’s targeted revenues which were greatly reduced through Recto’s bill when he called a meeting with some of the Senators the other night.
Malacañang confirmed meeting over dinner but said it was a “purely social event” and has nothing to do with the administration’s intense desire to get the original version of the sin tax reform measure.
Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda did not identify those who attended the meeting but he instead mentioned those who were not present such as Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Koko Pimentel, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“Senator (Francis) Escudero just dropped by as it was his birthday. It was a purely social event,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda, nevertheless, said the Recto bill may not be able to yield enough money to fund the administration’s health agenda.
Lacierda would not say whether or not the President has met with Recto. He however issued a statement manifesting intense desire of the President to get the original version passed by the Senate word for word.
“I don’t know if the President has already met Senator Recto. But certainly, what we want from the sin tax measure is to get higher revenues to be able to fund our universal health care coverage. I think it will be safe to say that certainly the administration is pushing for our measure that would have looked at the revenues that we have projected, that we’ve anticipated in order to fund our universal health care coverage”, he said
Aquino earlier called for solidarity with legislators on the sin tax bill, a statement seen as a personal request of the chief executive on the Senate members to support the administration’s version which sought an estimated increase in revenue yearly of P36 billion against Recto’s version anchored on an income that would not even exceed P15 billion.
While Senators Sergio Osmena III and Franklin Drilon have joined Santiago in airing their displeasure on the proposed increase in rates of excise taxes, Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan supported Recto’s bill.
Marcos, who has been quite vocal in expressing his concern over possible effects on the livelihood of farmers especially in his home province, Ilocos Norte where tobacco farming is the main source of income, said he shares Recto’s contention in providing “reasonable” rate increase as well as the proposed gradual phase of the increase on sin products.
Marcos has no idea where the finance department and the House of Representatives based figures as it only raised more questions than answers.
Marcos also said Recto is correct in coming up with such kind of taxation scheme because he believes that a complicated tax measure may only lead to failure.
Honasan said the report provided by Recto can not be considered final yet as it will undergo a series of deliberations and in most probability, it will have several changes due for approval by the entire chamber.
“What Recto and I agreed upon was that I will propose amendment on the floor. We will debate on it and we will submit to the body for consideration. This is the report of Recto. This is how he views the sin taxes. We obviously have a different view. We feel that the rates that are proposed in the committee report are not sufficient,” Drilon, in another interview, said.
“We just have to move quickly. My agreement with Recto and other senators is that we will finish the sin tax debates before we commend the debates on the budget on mid-November,” Drilon, chair of the finance committee, said.
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