Ways and Means committee:pitfall for two Batangueño legislators
In a period of one year, the Ways and Means committees of both legislative chambers claimed two Batangueños.
Last Monday, Sen. Ralph Recto resigned as chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee after he found himself a target of criticisms for his committee report and his own version of the Sin Tax bill which groups pushing for higher taxes say is Philip Morris-friendly.
December last year, Batangas Rep. (2nd district) Hermilando Mandanas, a member of the Liberal party just like Recto, was removed as chairman of the ways and means committee. He was replaced by another LP member, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.
The Ways and Means committees are most coveted and are given to senior legislators. The committees have jurisdiction on all matters relating to revenue which include taxes and fees, tariffs, loans and other
sources and forms of revenue.
I know of a legislator who had held that position for many years he became so rich that last election, money flowed like water in his province. He won, of course, together with his son who also ran for another elective post.
In his privilege speech last Monday, Recto related the travails of being chair of the powerful committee. “In revenue-raising, you have to learn to live with brickbats. .. A Ways and Means committee chair has to plod on and just be comforted by the thought that although what he is doing might be unpopular, it is right.”
But, he said, “ in crafting tax laws, there is one support mechanism he can’t live without – and that is the backing of the executive.”
That, he felt he had lost. He said he felt bad that Finance officials not only did not appreciate the work he had done but were insinuating of some irregularities on his part.
“If you wake up Sunday morning to the news that the executive’s phantom legislative point man has accused any senator who does not toe the Finance department proposal as having been bribed by alcohol and tobacco industries, then you know that the trust is gone.
“Kung isang araw din maririnig mong binabatikos ka sa radyo ng isang mataas na revenue official gamit ang datos na hindi makatotohanan, ay magtatampo ka rin talaga,” he lamented.
Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Sec. Manuel Mamba had told media that “big money” from the cigarette lobby is the main reason past administrations have not been able to pass a more stringent sin tax that would curb cigarette consumption and increase substantially funds allocated for public health.
Bureau of Internal Revenue Kim Henares said that BIR employees who had supplied Recto’s committee with data “felt betrayed.”
Recto related his difficult situation: “ Mahirap naman po na pagdating sa debate ang mga nakaupo sa table dito sa likod ko ay hindi sumasang-ayon sa aking paniniwala at gustong ibasura yun.”
Thus, he declared:“Sa ganito pong sitwasyon, then my only recourse is to irrevocably resign the chairmanship of the committee.”
In the case of Mandanas, his ouster from the Ways and Means committee was immediately after he refused to sign the articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Administration sources, however, said Malacañang was displeased with Mandanas on a number of tax-related issues and the Corona impeachment was only the last straw.
Civil society groups who lambasted Recto cited conflict of interest becausePhilip Morris’ $300 million (P15 billion) state-of-the-art Philip Morris cigarette manufacturing plant is in Tanauan City, Batangas.
As expected, they are happy that Recto resigned as chair of the ways and means committee. Dr. Anthony Leachon, one of the leading advocates for a Sin tax bill more responsive to public health by curbing cigarette consumption, issued the following statement: “Recto’s resignation is what the country needs.
“ The clamor for genuine sin tax reforms did not only come from Malacañang. It was the public’s clamor to save people from ailments due to smoking.
“The challenge now lies on the Senate leadership to go back to work and pass the real sin tax reform ASAP.
“The Filipino people cannot afford any delay for each day this measure is not passed, we are losing more lives. We will remained vigilant up to the very end for our country ‘s healthcare and the future generation of Filipinos.”