Like It Is

Time to vote, save lives


There are posters put up downtown by some heartless monsters that say, “NO TO SIN TAX, JOBS NOT TAXES,” as it is “Anti-laborers, anti-farmers, anti-poor.”

I wish to fund a poster to plaster over them that says, “YES TO SIN TAX, LIVES NOT JOBS,” as it is “Pro-youth, pro-health, pro-revenues.”

As the full-page ad in this paper two Sundays ago so eloquently said: “HOW MUCH IS ONE FILIPINO LIFE WORTH?” It added: “The undisputed fact is, no amount can equal the value of a single life that can be saved from the harm caused by smoking.”  It was an ad placed by doctors and former patients of smoking-related diseases—people who should know of which they speak.

I can understand some senators wanting to protect the jobs of their constituents. But they aren’t the “senator from such-and-such province,” they are senators of the people of the Republic of the Philippines. Their responsibility is to the nation, not to their hometown—that’s the congressman’s role.

The national good requires smoking to stop. Quite simply, it kills. I am sure all senators want to save lives, and will sacrifice a few jobs to achieve that—if jobs were lost. I and others have argued quite logically why there won’t in fact be any job loss. It’s a red herring being propagated by people who put profit over life. I wonder if they sleep well at night.

Cigarette smoking is finished; it’s only a matter of when. Watch the old movies, where everyone smoked. It was the chic thing to do, and the harm it does was not known then. Today few smoke, and do it outside, no longer in romantic conviviality over an after-dinner drink. Countries are getting closer and closer to an outright ban, but it may not be necessary. Cost will do it, as taxes rise astronomically (they’re at 63 percent of the cigarette’s cost in Australia, 69 percent in Singapore) and ever more stringent limitations get applied: Plain packaging will be done in Australia in December and gruesome pictures are now standard on packs in many places, all of which means fewer and fewer will smoke, and, more importantly, fewer will start.

So if I were Philip Morris or British American Tobacco, or Fortune Tobacco, I’d be doing a Ramon Ang and shift to other businesses. Buggy-whip manufacturers don’t exist today. Kodak is bankrupt, from its pinnacle in film. Paper manufacturers are in decline, cigarette producers won’t have a market down the road.

Save lives, gentlemen, not jobs. Save 240 Filipinos from dying every day, pass the Abaya bill in the bicameral committee, not the Senate’s watered-down version that will continue to protect the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco monopoly. Show the statesmanship you’re capable of. Otherwise, we must ask: Are you really willing to sacrifice lives to save a few jobs? I don’t think you are; prove me right. Consider national health over the incomes of a few. Incomes they won’t lose, anyway, because the sin tax law will mandate that P6 billion be allotted to ensuring this doesn’t happen. So stop the red herrings, act to save your fellow Filipinos.

And do the same with the Reproductive Health bill, too. Save lives. Save the 11 mothers who die daily from childbirth complications, the 20 infants (per 1,000 live births) and the 25 children (per 1,000 live births) who die before they reach 5, because they had no access to assistance and were too poor to feed their brood and keep them healthy.

According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey, some 54 percent of married Filipino women do not want an additional child, and another 19 percent want to wait at least two years before their next birth. The desired fertility rate in the country is 2.4 children, or a child less than the actual fertility rate of 3.3.

Surely they have the right to be informed of their options, and make their own decisions as their conscience dictates. They are the ones who have to answer to God. They have the right to decide on what they do. Priests can only guide; they have no right  to dictate. Yet that, I’m reliably told, is what they are doing.

The people want family planning (71 percent of respondents in an SWS survey are for the approval of the RH bill). The government has the responsibility to meet that want. That responsibility applies equally to Congress, the people’s representatives. And as representatives of the people, they should vote as 71 percent (a winning voting number )of their people want.

I’ll accept that some of the people’s representatives will still not be swayed, and will vote on their personal beliefs. Let them do so. But the time to vote is now. Those who still try to block through interpellation (after 13 years, there’s nothing left to argue) or denying  a quorum by not showing up should be kicked out in 2013 (or 2016, for some) for not doing their job of representing the people.

I don’t like writing about the same subject more than once. Worse, I don’t like making the same arguments all over again. But I must, as these two bills are far too important for the protection of human life to be not addressed now. It is time to vote—for the health, for the life, of the people.

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Tags: column , Peter Wallace , sin taxes , smoking

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