Malaya – Drilon takes over

By JP Lopez | Malaya

malaya_business_insightTHE Senate in caucus yesterday accepted the resignation of Sen. Ralph Recto as chair of the ways and means committee.

Sen. Franklin Drilon, committee vice chair, was named to replace Recto.

Recto did not take part in the almost two-hour caucus.

Recto wrote majority leader Vicente Sotto III reiterating his motion to withdraw his committee report on the sin tax reform bill and asked the Senate to adopt the original bill of Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya or the bill filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, which are similar to the Department of Finance proposal to increase the excise tax on tobacco and liquor products in order to raise P60 billion in additional revenues for the government.

“The withdrawal of the report would also allow the new chairman a free hand in crafting a new version of the bill with new matters arising after the report,” Recto said.

Recto, in a privilege speech on Monday, announced his resignation as chair of the ways and means committee, apparently stung by allegations of Presidential Legislative Liaison Office secretary Manuel Mamba that some senators were offered bribes by lobbyists of tobacco firms to reject higher taxes on cigarettes.

Recto’s panel proposed a sin tax reform bill that would raise P15 billion to P20 billion in additional annual revenues in the first year of its implementation.

The House of Representatives approved in June its version, which is expected to raise P31.35 billion in the first year of its implementation. The Department of Finance proposed P60 billion in revenues per year.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. alleged that Recto was pressured by Malacañang to resign.

“What is happening here is that essentially, a chairman has reported out a bill and the administration, the executive department, has decided that they are not supportive of that bill and has put enough pressure now upon that chairman so that he feels the need to resign from his position and to withdraw the committee report,” said Marcos, who supports Recto’s version of the bill.

“We simply cannot do our work if we are looking over our shoulder and hoping that whatever we write into our committee report will be agreeable to the executive department. If we do that, we might as well go home and be just the rubber stamp that they seem to want us to be,” Marcos said.

Marcos clarified he was not against the executive branch expressing its opinions or exerting pressure on the senators.

“What I do find repugnant is that the executive can cause a committee chairman to withdraw his committee report because they do not agree with it and furthermore, that they caused the committee chairman to resign. That is what I find objectionable,” he stressed.

Drilon said the committee report prepared by Recto can withstand scrutiny in plenary debates.

“In the period of amendments, the amendments can be introduced. In fact, if you look at the report, I indicated in my signature that I will amend because my agreement with Senator Recto is that even if I did not agree with his conclusion and his rates, we agreed that the vice chairman of the committee will submit to the floor the amendments at the appropriate time,” Drilon said in a press briefing.

“I think the public interest will dictate that we maintain the committee report and we debate on it and at the appropriate time, we submit the amendments. We do not have to start from scratch,” he added.

Drilon is confident the Senate would pass the measure either in December or in January next year, at the latest.

Congress will take a Halloween break on October 18 and will resume sessions on November 5. It will again go on recess before Christmas and will resume sessions on the second week of January.

Drilon said floor deliberations on the bill should not be hampered by Recto’s resignation, as the chairman cannot withdraw the committee report.

“Ang committee report ay report ng committee. At ang sabi nga ni Senator Escudero kahapon, hindi naman pwedeng chairman lang magwi-withdraw (ng report). Yan po ay mananatili pa,” Drilon said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Recto’s decision to resign is his prerogative.

“We (Malacañang) didn’t have any hand there,” he said.

Lacierda said he is trying to get the side of Mamba.

He said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s opposition to Recto’s version of the sin tax bill was a “very straightforward” way of informing the public what government wants to happen, and should not be taken as endangering the relationship between the Senate and the executive branch.

Lacierda said the Palace does not expect lawmakers to accept its version of the sin tax bill but the Senate version is not acceptable.

“The House version is already a compromise…But the one in the Senate, medyo mababa talaga,” he said.

Health Justice Philippines said Recto’s resignation should not delay the passage of a strong sin tax bill within the year.

“Tobacco will kill an estimated one billion people in the 21st century, in absence of aggressive action by government to advance tobacco control,” the anti-smoking group said.

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