Recto drops sin tax bill

Senator hurt by bribery insinuation, criticisms Senator Ralph Recto resigned as chairman of the Senate ways and means committee Monday after drawing fire from the Palace for watering down the sin tax bill, but his colleagues set a caucus today to decide whether they would accept it.
In resigning, Recto withdrew his committee report supporting a bill that reduced the amount of revenue that would have been raised from the new taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to P15 billion a year, down from the Finance Department’s original target of P60 billion, or the House of Representative’s P30-billion estimate. Recto admitted he was hurt by a statement from the Palace that the senators who did not support the administration’s version of the sin tax bill might have been bribed by the tobacco and alcohol companies. “I would be lying if I will said that I am not affected by the unfounded criticisms of my friends in the Executive,” said Recto, who claimed he had become the “national punching bag of the week.” He said withdrawing his committee report would give the new chairman of the ways and means committee a free hand in drafting a new one. “The committee records, data, the transcript are all available, and these are the threads that will form the new fabric of the excise tax bill. They can be easily woven into a new one,” Recto said. He said the House-proposed version can be adopted as the discussion document from which amendments could be made. “Or we can ask the DoF to send its own bill,” he said. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the caucus today would also discuss what the Senate would do with Recto’s committee report. Earlier, Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. objected when Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III accepted Recto’s resignation, saying this would unduly delay the sin tax bill. “If we accept Senator Recto’s resignation, then there is no more sin tax bill if nobody assumes his post,” Arroyo said. Senator Edgardo Angara then recommended that the resignation be discussed at a caucus today, a suggestion that Enrile supported. Recto, who has come under attack from various Executive department agencies, said there was no quarrel over the urgent need to legislate higher sin taxes. “There is only a divergence of views on how to achieve it,” he said. Over the weekend, Secretary Manuel Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office said any senator who did not support the government version of the sin tax bill could be suspected of having been bribed. Enrile on Monday demanded an apology from Mamba if he could not substantiate his accusations. He added that if he were President, he would have fired Mamba on the spot. Recto said he was tired. “Personally, Mr. Senate President, I believe it is curtain time for me in this assignment. I am suffering from what I would call ‘ways and means’ fatigue. Having been doing this for almost a decade, there is taxing exhaustion on my part,” Recto said. “Because I am now seen as an obstruction and viewed with suspicion, then I have to take myself out of the equation,” he added. He also said he was being criticized from all sides, by groups who wanted even lower taxes and others that wanted higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Recto said his role as chairman of the ways and means committee was “a thankless job.” “It is akin to living in an apartment row and waking up one morning to see your building surrounded by fire. So you proceed to collect money from other residents to buy a water hose. All the apartments were saved. But you will not be remembered as the guy who saved the houses. You will simply be remembered as the one who collected the money to buy the water hose,” Recto said. “If my resignation is what is required to expedite the passage of this very important bill, then so be it,” Recto said. “Let me reiterate that I support President Aquino in his effort to reform the sin taxes. It is out of my loyalty to him that I am stepping aside to speed up the passage of this very important measure,” he said. He said his resignation would also spare “his friends” in the Finance Department the trouble of trying to convince the senators that their version of the bill was superior to the one approved by his commission. Earlier, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares said she and others in the government felt betrayed by Recto’s sin tax proposal after cooperating with his committee. Sin tax reform advocates said Recto was swayed by the presence of a large Philip Morris factory in Tanuan, Batangas City. Doctors led by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral held a dialogue with Recto Monday to lobby for the passage of the government proposed sin tax version. Asked if she believed Recto’s repeated pronouncement that there was no lobby money involved in his proposal, Cabral answered: “No.”
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