HealthJustice Philippines, a public health policy think tank, commends the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for installing added safeguards against tobacco company interference in the setting and implementation of public health policies.
The tax agency issued Revenue Memorandum Order 28-2014, which sets new guidelines in limiting interaction between its officials and tobacco manufacturers and defines certain offences as additional grounds for administrative disciplinary action. Public officials and employees who violate the memorandum may be subject to administrative, criminal, and civil liabilities.
The new memorandum was released pursuant to the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2010-01 of the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health, which prohibits interactions with the tobacco industry, except when strictly necessary for the effective regulation, supervision, and control of the tobacco industry. Any necessary interaction must be conducted publicly and transparently, and efforts must be taken to prevent or correct any perception of partnership with the tobacco industry.
“This is a very positive development and clear proof that the BIR is serious in safeguarding the agency against tobacco industry interference. There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and tobacco control interests,” said HealthJustice President, Dr. Daniel Tan.
BIR’s new memorandum aims to avoid potential conflict of interest between the agency and tobacco companies. The memorandum prohibits any government official, regardless of status, to have any conflict of interest with the tobacco industry at all times. In the event of a conflict, the official must resign from his position in the tobacco industry within 30 days after assuming office or divest his industry shares or interests within 60 days after assuming office.
“Commissioner Henares sets an example for other government officials to implement the CSC-DOH JMC in their own agencies. This is an excellent measure to prevent conflicts of interests and promote transparency in line with the Aquino administration’s Daang Matuwid, because tobacco companies only claim to be transparent but in reality they hide the truth about their deadly products and activities,” said Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance Project Director Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo.
In 2012, President Benigno Aquino III signed the Sin Tax Law, which imposed higher excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol products. It took 16 years to pass the historic law due to the opposition and intense lobbying by tobacco companies. In July, President Aquino signed the Graphic Health Warning Law, which is the second tobacco control measure signed by the current administration.
The BIR is one of the government agencies that were tasked to implement the Sin Tax Law.