As I See It

Enrile: RH bill hangs in balance in Senate

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The Reproductive Health bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, is in peril in the Senate. Those opposed to it have a one-vote lead over its supporters, according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who was the lone guest at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. Enrile said that based on a head count he had made, nine senators would vote against the bill, eight would vote in favor, with six senators still undecided. The fate of the RH bill will therefore depend on these six. Enrile said he himself would vote against the bill.

What aspects of the bill are some of the senators opposing, and will amendments make it acceptable to them? Enrile said he did not know the amendments being proposed. As for his own objection, he said progress and development would depend on investments, not on the size of the population.

He cited China—now one of the richest nations in the world and a global power—as an example. With 1.3 billion inhabitants, it also has the world’s biggest population. With a population that huge, the factories have a very big market for their products. It also has a big pool of workers that enables it to make its products cheaper, which makes these more competitive in the world market.

On the other hand, some countries like Germany and Singapore that have diminishing populations have to import foreign workers. They are now urging their people to have more children. Singapore is offering bonuses to its young people to marry and have children.

Poor countries like the Philippines export their workers. That puts a strain on their families, depletes the countries’ experienced work force, and decreases the market for their products.

On contraception, Enrile echoed the Church’s argument that once fertilization takes place in the womb there already is life and we do not have the moral right to terminate life.

Told that contraceptives, such as condoms and diaphragms, precisely prevent fertilization, that the sperm and ovum do not even meet, Enrile answered: “How do we know when fertilization, life, begins? Only God knows and gives that.”

On the “sin tax” bill that would raise the taxes on, and therefore increase the prices of, cigarettes, Enrile also expressed his opposition. Aside from the fact that he comes from a tobacco-growing region, he said that increasing the prices of tobacco too much would only encourage smuggling.

When the price of any product is too high in any country, that only encourages smugglers to bring in similar products, such as cigarettes, from abroad. Instead of discouraging smokers, they would have access to cheaper ones, the smuggled cigarettes.

“Remember when smuggled cigarettes were being sold all over the Philippines? Do we want those days to return?” Enrile said. “We were not able to stop smuggling then; we won’t be able to stop smuggling now.” With its many islets and secluded beaches, the Philippines is very vulnerable to smuggling. Our navy boats cannot even catch up with the kumpit of the smugglers, he added.

Instead of increasing revenues, too high taxes would decrease them, as what happened in other countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Australia that also raised taxes on cigarettes.

Enrile said he was not totally against raising the sin tax. “But not too much,” he added. As proposed in the bill, cigarette prices would more than double. That’s greed already.

“Even the cigarette manufactures are amenable to an increase in the sin tax,” Enrile said, “but not at the level they are proposing. The manufacturers, such as Fortune Tobacco, also want to maintain the multiple levels of taxes.” Fortune manufactures low-priced cigarettes. The sin tax bill will impose the same rate of tax on all brands; it will be the same for high-priced and low-priced cigarettes.

High prices will not discourage smoking, Enrile said. Smoking is not just a habit, it is an addiction. Even if a smoker wants to quit, he cannot because his body craves for the nicotine. He will continue to crave for a cigarette. So what will he do if he cannot afford a cigarette? Like a drug addict, he will steal to satisfy his craving. Or buy smuggled cigarettes.

Exorbitant taxes will not improve the health of smokers, either. That line is only propaganda. On the contrary, they will affect his health more. Why? A poor smoker will devote a bigger part of his money for cigarettes and cut the part for food. Help the smokers with alternatives to smoking, not with high prices, because smoking is really drug addiction. The drug is nicotine.

Enrile is more optimistic with the Freedom of Information bill.

“That was already passed by the Senate in the past but Congress adjourned before it could be approved by the House,” he said. “So it has to go back to the beginning of the legislative mill.”

“I am personally in favor of the bill,” he added. “It is the members of the House who are blocking it. Why be afraid of the truth if you are not doing anything wrong?”

He also said the proposed budget for 2013 would have no trouble hurdling the Senate. Asked if there would be enough funding for the proposed budget, which is very much bigger than the current one, he replied in the affirmative.

Enrile also defended the outgoing and controversial Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, who is suspected of trying to get sensitive documents from the offices and living quarters of Secretary Jesse Robredo after his plane crashed in the sea off Masbate. It is rumored that Puno is involved in the cases Robredo was investigating, such as “jueteng,” illegal logging, and overpricing in the purchase of guns for the Philippine National Police.

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