DOH backs DOF campaign vs cigarette tax cheats

MANILA-- The Department of Health (DOH) is backing the Department of Finance (DOF)'s campaign to expose, and run after, tax cheats in the cigarette industry, in which just an additional P1 billion in unpaid taxes could have been spent to procure medicines and pay for the medical treatment of some 5.7 million indigent Filipinos afflicted with hypertension and diabetes.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III welcomed the DOH's expression of support, and assured Health Secretary Paulynn Ubial that Mighty Corp., which the government has vowed to haul into court for using fake cigarette tax stamps, would get no special treatment from the DOF or the Bureaus of Internal Revenue (BIR) and of Customs (BOC).

The rule of law must be applied equally. All kinds of crime must face swift and sure justice, and Mighty Corp. is no exception. These fraudulent tax stamps represent billions of pesos worth of theft from the Filipino people, Dominguez said.

The DOF has been at the forefront of the government's campaign against tax dodgers in the cigarette industry.

Last March 22, the BIR filed a P9.6 billion criminal complaint against Mighty Corp. before the Department of Justice (DOJ) 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 use of fake tax stamps was uncovered during a series of surprise inspections that the BOC had conducted on warehouses housing Mighty Corp. cigarettes.

The current sin tax law was passed to help devote more resources to health care. It is alleged that Mighty has evaded P9 billion worth of taxes, if not more. Imagine how many hospitals, how many surgeries, how many vaccines, how many prescriptions could have been administered with that money and how many lives could have been saved, Dominguez said.

Rest assured, we are pursuing this case in consideration of the magnitude of what has been deprived from the Filipino people, he said.

Mighty Corp. executives will have their constitutional opportunity to prove their innocence but the evidence seems overwhelmingly to point to their guilt, he said.

According to the DOH, its initial calculations show that P1 billion can be used to pay for daily maintenance medicines, laboratory work and medical care for deadly diseases caused by tobacco use. With an augmentation of a mere P1 billion to the program, the DOH would be able to treat 3,975,421 patients with hypertension, and 1,705,030 with diabetes, Ubial has said.

The DOH secretary has pointed out that although the cigarette company had already earned staggering amounts of money over the past few years by distributing products that support unhealthy habits, Mighty Corporation has also hurt the Filipino people by failing to pay the legally prescribed taxes that are meant to support efforts to promote the health of the least privileged in society.

It's really a double whammy, Ubial has said.

Ubial has congratulated the BIR, the BOC and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for running after big players in the cigarette industry suspected of depriving the government of billions of pesos in tax revenues through the use of fake cigarette stamps.

The excise taxes they owe the government are meant to pay for medicines, commodities and services that can be used to prevent and control the diseases they cause, Ubial said.

There are still more than 15 million smokers in the country, who smoke at home or in public places and more than half of all women and children are regularly exposed to deadly second hand smoke, Ubial said.

One out of four Filipinos has high blood pressure and half of them do not know it. We need to invest on prevention, early detection of hypertension, maintenance medications and enabling patients to live healthier. The money we get from tobacco taxes can be put to good use to prevent conditions caused by tobacco among the poorest 70,000 adult Filipinos who are at risk, she added.

Ubial said the DOH is currently designing a program of care for patients at risk for heart attacks and strokes using electronic medical records for the poorest 20 million Filipinos who are the priority of the Duterte administration.

We intend to provide more for those who have the less in life, she said.

Source: Philippines Information Agency