MANILA— The Department of Finance (DOF) has assured health officials that it will double its efforts in raising enough revenues to enable the government to build more hospitals and provide quality, affordable health care to Filipinos.
At the same time, Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Alvarez thanked the Department of Health (DOH) for fully supporting the DOF’s campaign against tobacco tax cheats who deprive the government of billions of pesos in revenues that could have otherwise helped fund initiatives to procure medicines and treat Filipinos most affected by smoking-related diseases.
“We pledge our support to your drive to strengthen the campaign against tobacco use and smoking. We promise to also help you raise enough revenues to provide more hospitals and to provide the health care needed by our people,” said Alvarez, the DOF spokesperson, at a recent press briefing by the DOH.
In response, DOH Secretary Paulynn Ubial welcomed Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III’s commitment to run after tax evaders in the tobacco industry as well as his support for the Sin Tax Reform Law as a means to funnel more resources to healthcare.
“The Department of Health and the Department of Finance mutually stressed that the Sin Tax Reform Law, also known as Republic Act 10351, which collects funds from the excise tax charged on tobacco products, is a prime directive to sustain the Universal Health Care Program of the government in executing health-centered priority programs especially to the destitute sectors of our society,” Ubial said.
Ubial earlier commended the DOF and its attached agencies—the Bureaus of Internal Revenue (BIR) and of Customs (BOC) for exposing Mighty Corp.2’s fraudulent practice of using fake cigarette tax stamps on its brands. The surprise inspections conducted by the BOC on Mighty’s warehouses has led the BIR to file an initial PHP9.5 billion criminal complaint against the cigarette manufacturer for unlawful possession of articles subject to excise tax without payment of the tax, and for possession of false, counterfeit, restored or altered stamps.
The DOH chief said that an additional PHP1 billion increase in excise tax collections from the cigarette industry under the Sin Tax Reform Law would enable the health department to treat 3.8 million patients afflicted with hypercholesterolemia, 471,437 insulin dependent diabetics, 27,768 children being treated for cancer, 6,568 breast cancer patients, 33,333 stroke patients, 256,147 mental health patients, and 14,059 patients under treatment for colon cancer and rectum cancer.
“The estimated cost of paying for the medicines of the poor is about P14 billion for 2017. The Sin Tax grants the DOH to utilize revenue for the Medicine Access Program (MAP) that provides expensive medicines to indigent Filipinos. The DOH program also distributes oral maintenance medicines to 1,157,563 hypertension patients and to 441,642 patients being treated for diabetes,” Ubial said. She pointed out that another PHP1 billion pumped into the MAP would allow the DOH to give medical attention to 3.9 million individuals with hypertension, and 1.7 million patients with diabetes.
In the press briefing, Alvarez said the DOF is also keeping tabs on other cigarette manufacturers that could possibly be guilty of similar or other fraudulent practices that enable them to dodge paying the correct amount of taxes to the government.
“We are looking at not just one, but all cigarette companies, or other establishments, that are not paying taxes. So we want this to be a fair game for everyone. We want to ensure that those who are paying the correct amount of taxes are not disadvantaged and we will do this by running after those who are not. So the others, we are also looking at them,” Alvarez said.
Besides the DOH, the Department of Education (DepEd) has also joined the DOF’s campaign against Mighty Corp., whose estimated tax liabilities could, according to education officials, either feed 4.4 million school children or help close the perennial backlog in classrooms, teachers and learning materials in the public school system.
DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said that in the first complaint alone involving Mighty’s PHP9.5 billion in unpaid taxes, the government could have built 7,600 classrooms for elementary and junior high school learners or 3,800 buildings for senior high school students.
The same amount could have also helped feed 4.4 million school kids for 120 days under the DepEd’s School-based Feeding Program that aims to address undernutrition and short-term hunger among public school learners from Kindergarten to Grade 6, Briones informed Dominguez.
Briones likewise said that P9.5 billion could have also procured computer packages for 3,800 public schools or set up 3,800 science laboratories.
Dominguez has said that last month’s criminal complaint against Mighty Corp. covered the alleged non-payment of PHP9.5 billion in excise taxes on cigarettes seized from one warehouse alone, and does not yet take into account the three other raided warehouses leased by the firm where the BOC had found 90 percent of Mighty cigarettes with fake internal revenue stamps.