MANILA, Philippines – Seeking to dig deeper into the alleged tobacco tax fund mess, partylist lawmakers filed a resolution Thursday to look into the utilization of the tobacco excise tax and to determine the “tangible benefits” received by tobacco farmers from such funds.
“The authors of this resolution, intend with all seriousness and authenticity, that the more fundamental issue or concern of tobacco farmers, who are supposedly the main beneficiaries of the fund be put to proper attention of Congress,” according to House Resolution No. 1126 filed by the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers composed of Reps. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Antonio Tinio and France Castro of ACT Teacher, Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis, and Sarah Elago of Kabataan.
The resolution asked the House committee on good governance and public accountability to take the lead in conducting the inquiry. The same committee is investigating the alleged anomalous purchase of vehicles using P66.45 million in tobacco excise tax fund during the term of Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos. She has been subpoenaed to attend the hearing scheduled on July 25.
Citing various Commission on Audit (COA) audit reports from 2006 to 2016, the lawmakers said share from tobacco excise tax received by the province reached more than P1.5 billion with part of the breakdown as follows:
2006 PhP68.88 million
Total P1.521 billion
“Though billions of pesos from the share from the tobacco excise tax were received by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte, tobacco farmers under the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) and Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon ti Ilocos Norte (Peasant Alliance in Ilocos Norte, AMIN), both chapters of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), as early as 2006 have been demanding the direct benefits from the fund,” the resolution said.
“STOP Exploitation and AMIN said that tobacco farmers of Ilocos Norte have always hoped that they would benefit from the funds from RA 7171 but officials allot the bulk of these for their own whims. The minicabs, mini trucks and buses procured by the provincial government never directly uplifted the well-being of the tobacco farmers. The production subsidy and other funds allotted for tobacco farmers to cushion them when prices of tobacco leaves are down and, when there are disasters, have always been insignificant,” it added.
Republic Act No. 7171 or an Act to Promote the Development of the Farmer in the Virginia Tobacco Producing Provinces stated under Section 1 that as a government policy, it is mandated to extend special support to the farmers of the Virginia tobacco-producing provinces inasmuch as these farmers are the nucleus of the Virginia tobacco industry which generates a sizeable income, in terms of excise taxes from locally manufactured Virginia-type cigarettes and customs duties on imported blending tobacco, for the National Government.
The financial support given by the National Government for the beneficiary provinces will be constituted and collected from the proceeds of fifteen percent (15%) of the excise taxes on locally manufactured Virginia type of cigarettes. The funds allotted shall be divided among the beneficiary provinces pro rata according to the volume of Virginia tobacco production. Provinces producing Virginia tobacco shall be the beneficiary provinces under the law.