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Bills to pass

“It’s open war on Church, bishops say,” reads a headline in this newspaper, and so it should be. For 13 years the church has opposed this eminently sensible and desperately needed legislation.

Malolos Bishop Oliveros urged the President to listen to the voice of the people, whom he noted are majority Catholic. The President did; survey after survey has shown around 70 percent of Filipinos (that includes Catholic respondents) have said they want, they need family planning. When the President listened to this need of the people and agreed to it in the Sona, it elicited the longest, loudest applause of anything he had said. The public support for it was overwhelming.

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In the same article Bishop Bastes was reported as saying that “P-Noy is undermining the moral force of the Catholic church. We have to move our people to vigilance and teach more our congressmen about the dangers of the RH bill.” There are no “dangers” to the RH bill, there are provable dangers to not passing it. Bishop Bastes, incidentally, is the bishop who deliberately told lies (I have proof) after the Lafayette mining spill.

The Philippines is a secular state; some 17 percent are not Catholic; the government has a responsibility to all Filipinos. The people asked for assistance in family planning, the state has the responsibility to meet their wishes. The Church has every right to advise its flock on what is right and wrong according to their beliefs, but it can’t be allowed to dictate to the state. If family planning clinics are established, Catholics aren’t forced to use them. They have the freedom to do so, or not. What’s wrong with that? Thirteen years has been more than enough time to debate the issues, they’ve been argued interminably. There’s nothing more to say, it’s time to vote.

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Another bill I’d like to see passed is the one on “sin taxes.”  Anyone who cares will want higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, particularly cigarettes. Cigarettes kill. Two of my best friends are dead prematurely because they smoked.

So I feel sorry for tobacco farmers if they lose income, but being poor is better than being dead. But, and this is the reality, the need for tobacco leaf is far in excess of whatever Filipino farmers can produce. If sales fell 20 percent, the absolute max even the doomsayers predict, all domestic production would be needed as the 100 billion sticks produced currently use a mix with imported leaf, so this is where the reduction could occur. Last year, 60 percent of what the tobacco farmers produced was exported, so if domestic demand fell exports could be increased, as the National Tobacco Administration has mentioned.

Anyway, the proposed bill, HB 5727, requires that 15 percent of the additional revenues to be raised (or P5 billion out of P33 billion in its first year of implementation) be provided to help farmers adapt. But it goes deeper than that; tobacco farmers must be encouraged to shift from a death-creating product to health-supporting ones. They should shift to healthy crops.

As to economic arguments: An estimated 30 million Filipinos have no access to health care because they can’t afford it. HB 5727 allots some P28 billion to fund PhilHealth and provide that access—lives can be saved, health restored. Who would be so heartless as to want to deny this? Yet there are people who would. They want to keep the cheap cigarettes cheap (look at their statements decrying the “horrendous” 700 percent increase if the bill is passed) so the poor will die early on and not be a burden on society anymore. They want cigarettes cheap so young people won’t be discouraged from starting a habit that kills. Talk about heartless monsters.

HB 5727 in its original form would apply a single tax rate on all cigarettes, certainly the humane thing to do, but political reality has led to two tiers, already an accommodation to the tobacco industry. A reluctantly acceptable compromise. But the monopoly, PMFTC, still is not happy. It wants three tiers. Why? For no other, let me stress, no other reason than to keep out new entrants such as British American Tobacco (BAT) as it would tax their cigarettes at P28.30 versus the equivalent (in quality) PMFTC cigarettes that would pay only P15 per pack.

Does that seem fair to you? Surely cigarettes of similar quality should pay the same taxes.

I see no bloody reason to own a gun. You can’t shoot someone if you don’t have a gun. Fifty-seven Filipinos wouldn’t be dead in Maguindanao or 12 Americans wouldn’t be dead and 70 wounded in a theater in Colorado (are theaters no longer a place to relax and enjoy ) if guns were banned.

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Some 9,000 Filipinos would be alive today and with their families if someone hadn’t shot them last year.

There have been around 80,000 gun deaths in the Philippines in the past 10 years. That’s 80,000 people who should be alive, but are dead because of guns. Let police and military carry guns, no one else.

Okay as a sport? No, it’s a cruel mind that enjoys killing innocent animals. A bow and arrow is far more skillful and just as satisfying for target-shooting.

The solution is not to put more damned security everywhere, it’s to ban guns totally. Anyone who cares for humanity, for human life would agree. Control will never work, it never has.

You must please excuse my swearing, but I’m mad, very mad. I hope you are too. Let’s ban guns. They kill.

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TAGS: Catholic bishops, family planning, featured column, guns, Health Care, sin taxes
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