By Jelly F. Musico
MANILA (15-Oct-2012/PNA) – Amid uproar against his alleged ‘watered down’ version of Sin Tax bill, Senator Ralph Recto stepped down on Monday as chairman of the Senate committee on ways and means.
”I am stepping aside and relinquish my position to a senator who can better fight for what the Department of Finance wants,” Recto said in his privilege speech.
Recto said he was not hurt if his critics condemn him “but I will be lying if I will say that I am not affected by the unfounded criticisms of my friends in the executive.”
”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,” Recto said.
Recto was referring to Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) chief Manuel Mamba, who reportedly insinuated that “big lobby money” has something to do with ‘watered down’ version of the bill.
Mamba has been quoted in Philippine Daily Inquirer’s report last Sunday for saying “Anyone who would not support this very popular measure is subject to suspicion that he has received lobby money or that he was bribed by the lobby groups of big multinationals.”
In his own privilege speech, Enrile asked the Senate proper committee to investigate the insinuation of Mamba even as he dared the PLLO head to substantiate his slur on the Senate or apologize to the senators.
”I dared Mr. Mamba to substantiate his slur on the entire Congress and entire government the truth of what he said or apologize public to us for his inutility and lack of knowledge of what he is doing as a PLLO of Malacanang,” Enrile said.
”As President of the Senate, it is my obligation and responsibility to assiduously safeguard the integrity, the honor and the reputation of this Senate of the Republic of the Philippines,” Enrile said.
Enrile said if Mamba could present facts and evidence that would substantiate his claims, “we will face to the responsibility if indeed we are foolish or stupid enough or criminal enough to be bribed by anyone in the performance of his duties.”
Recto said he also withdrawing his Committee Report No. 411 of the Senate Bill 3299, a substitute measure for the House Bill 5727 and SB 2763, 2764, 2998 and 3249 authored by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
”I am therefore withdrawing my committee report to give the incoming chairman a free hand in drafting a new one,” Recto said.
Recto apologized to his colleagues for his move that may affect the flow of business in the Senate.
”I would like to apologize to you, Mr. President, and to my fellow senators if this move of mine will affect the flow of business in this chamber. But deep in my heart, this is for the best, for all of us,” Recto said.
”Clearly, I am the national punching bag of the week. And I am not surprised. Because if you are head of the Ways and Means committee, expect to be pilloried and never be praised,” Recto said.
Recto, however, reiterated his support to President Benigno Aquino III in his effort to reform the sin taxes.
”It is out of my loyalty to him (President Aquino) that I am stepping aside to speed up the passage of this very important measure,” Recto, also a member of the ruling Liberal Party, said.
”Personally, Mr. Senate President, I believe it is curtain time for me in this assignment. I am suffering from what I would call “ways and means” fatigue. Having been doing this for almost a decade, there is taxing exhaustion on my part,” he said.
In his committee report, Recto slashed the DOF-target revenue from P60 billion to only P15 billion, which he said is “realistic, responsible and reasonable.”
However, Recto’s version drew opposition from the health advocates as well as from the government agencies, specifically DOF and Department of Health that are pushing for the passage of higher tax to the sin products such as cigarettes and alcohol drinks.
Recto defended his committee report, which was a product of marathon hearings attended by experts from all the stakeholders whom “all have been given to express their opinions.”
”As senators, we must listen not only to saints, but also to sinners. So what I submitted was a recommended bill, the rough draft of legislation. The Senate can either reject or ratify it, trash or tear it to pieces, amend or mangle it,” Recto said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III moved with a heavy heart to accept Recto’s resignation but Senator Edgardo Angara amended the motion and instead asked to refer it to the committee on rules.
The senators eventually agreed on Enrile’s suggestion to discuss the resignation of Recto in a caucus on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, almost 1,000 tobacco farmers opposing the passage of the Sin Tax bill held protest rally outside the Philippine Senate building in Pasay City. (PNA)