Manila Standard Today - Tobacco tax hike to worsen smuggling — lawmakers - Macon Ramos-Araneta

Cigarette smuggling in Mindanao is worse enough but it could worsen even more as a result of a plan to hike the tax on tobacco products, a lawmaker warned on Tuesday.

The Philippine Navy, mandated to guard  the shorelines against  enemies of the state, cannot control the backdoor so that the  smuggling  of cigarettes and other products from nearby countries continues to thrive in   Mindanao, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said on Tuesday.

Recalling his experiences as a Navy officer, Trillanes supported the statement of Senate President Juan  Ponce Enrile  about the country’s inability to regulate illicit trade. He said the government does not have the resources to address this problem.

“The question is: Are we efficient (to curb  smuggling? No, we are not,”  said Trillanes, a member of the senate ways and means committee chaired by Senator Ralph Recto.

Recto’s committee is  conducting a public hearing on the proposed 700 percent increse in the tax on cigarettes and alcohol.

Enrile earlier said the government cannot collect what it wants to collect because of the possibility of black market traders shifting to smuggling and other illicit means to avoid the increased tax.

“We are one with Senator Enrile on this. If this will pass into law, smuggling will be the consequence. Are we efficient in addressing smuggling? No we are not. When I was assigned in Zamboanga, I witnessed the so-called ‘blue-seal’ smuggled cigarettes enter the country,” noted  Trillanes.

Trillanes cited the need to  study  tax increases and identify the ideal rate which the market can absorb so that smuggling would not worsen.

He called on Finance and Health officials to stop confusing the public on their contradictory positions on the excise tax intended to generate additional revenues for the government and reduce tobacco  consumption.

He said the government is confused on what it wants to do with the excise tax bill.

“If this is a tax measure, then DOF and BIR must be the only agencies concerned with this issue. Let’s not put any drama to this,” he said.

“The DOH, on the other hand, says it wants to reduce smoking consumption and yet desires that the DOF collect additional revenues of P60 billion  that it can use for universal health care,” he said.

On the Health department’s position that the excise tax bill is also a health measure, he challenged the government to also start taxing unhealthy food products like fatty foods and sweets, among others.