By KYLE EDWARD FRANCISCO
VIGAN CITY — Ilocos farmers of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) bucked the cigarette tax bill supported by the House of Representatives’ Northern Luzon Alliance. The group said that the move reeks of corporate maneuvering and politicians’ selfish interests.
“The bill intends to ensure corporate profit and bigger excise tax share for politicians to plunder,” said Zaldy Alfiler, STOP Exploitation Secretary General. He added that representatives from tobacco-producing provinces should instead focus on legislation that insures direct benefits for farmers from the excise tax share that the local governments receive.
Purported conveners of the Northern Luzon Alliance are Majority Floor Leader and Ilocos Norte First District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, and Ilocos Sur Second District Representative Eric Singson.
STOP Exploitation, a regional peasant federation, claims a membership of 10,000 in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra.
Health and tobacco-regulation groups slammed the House Committee on Ways and Means headed by Rep. Dakila Cua of Quirino Province for railroading House Bill 4144. Filed on October 19, the measure was approved by the committee on December 5 without amendment, and fielded in the plenary the next day.
The measure is authored by ABS Partylist Representative Eugene De Vera, who hails from Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur. It aims to keep the two-tiered excise tax on cigarettes. Rates are set at P32 per pack for P11.50 and below and P32 for higher priced brands. It is also proposing for a 5% annual increase in the excise tax starting 2018.
STOP Exploitation agrees with critics that the bill was railroaded. Besides the possible “gifts” from tobacco companies, Alfiler pointed that railroading the bill shows how keen members of the Northern Alliance are at creating measures to increase their share mandated by RA 7171 and 8240, but inept at ensuring that peasants receive substantial benefits too.
RA 7171 and 8240 mandates 15% from the excise tax collected from tobacco products be given to provinces producing the crop.
Antonino Pugyao, who chairs the federation, noted that excise tax fund has always been a source of corruption and bastion for patronage politics. He advised that instead of increasing the base for the excise tax share, legislators should craft laws that guarantee direct benefits for farmers from the fund such as utilizing it for genuine agrarian reform.
The group also scoffed at Rep. De Vera’s claim that the implementation of the new Sin Tax Law (RA 10351) caused economic dislocation of farmers.
Alfiler contends that blaming RA 10351 is an effort to hide the truth that tobacco farmers continue to experience huge debt and bankruptcy because of high land rent, extreme usury, lack of government support and plunder of the excise tax fund, and the low buying price imposed by tobacco companies. “ABS Partylist failed to capture the real sentiments of the farmers, it is parroting overused lines of tobacco companies,” he said.
At the losing end
The leaders of the group maintained that whatever system is used, the government and peasants will always be at the losing end. For them, cigarette and tobacco companies will always acquire large profits.
Alfiler explained that since specific tax is imposed on tobacco and tobacco products, the method fails to account production and product upgrading that usually causes price increase. This, according to him, will provide greater profit for the company while decreasing the value of relative tax specially with high-priced brands.
Pugyao cited a World Health Organization study that says two-tiered system creates a hole in taxation system that allows cigarette companies to avoid paying the appropriate tax by repositioning their brands from higher to lower tiers.
Allot for disaster response
STOP Exploitation is also proposing that Local Government Units (LGUs) enact ordinances that automatically appropriate a portion of their share for disaster response, early recovery, and rehabilitation for farmers and farming communities in view of the region’s experience with Super Typhoon Lawin and other typhoons that ravaged the tobacco producing provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra.
The group claimed that LGUs failed to utilize the fund to augment their limited calamity fund, thereby, falling short of providing relief and livelihood assistance to the farmers. # nordis.net