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Milk, 3-in-1 coffee excluded from proposed sweetened beverage tax

Milk, three-in-one coffee mix and infant formula are excluded from the proposed excise tax on sweetened beverages under the Senate version of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) reported out in plenary last week. File

MANILA, Philippines — Milk, three-in-one coffee mix and infant formula are excluded from the proposed excise tax on sweetened beverages under the Senate version of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) reported out in plenary last week.

Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, presented for approval Senate Bill 1592 or the proposed TRAIN that is projected to raise P148 billion in fresh revenues for the government.

Angara said the panel found it unjustifiable to tax milk, given its nutritional value, the same way as soft drinks and other unhealthy sweetened beverages.

Under the bill, plain milk, infant formula milk, and growing up milk are excluded, as well as powdered, ready to drink, flavored and fermented milk with less than five grams of sugar per 100 milliliters.

The Senate version allocated the incremental revenues from sweetened beverage tax to fund the expansion of school-based and community-based feeding programs for children and adults in areas with high hunger incidence, as well as provision of water fountains in all public schools in the country.

Based on the data by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), chronic malnutrition among Filipino children under five years old has increased to 33.5 percent in 2015 from 30.5 percent in 2013, Angara said.

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“It’s very alarming that one in three children are very malnourished and this has a negative effect on their growth and development so the government’s feeding programs should be expanded so more will have nutritious food,” Angara said.

The tax bill likewise excluded three-in-one coffee mix from the proposed excise tax.

Based on the 2013 Food Consumption Survey of the FNRI, coffee is the seventh most consumed food item among Filipinos. A Kantar survey also showed that 90 percent of consumers of three-in-one coffee mix are low-income earners.

Under the earmarking provision, revenues from the sweetened beverage tax would also go to health programs to address obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases; and provision of dialysis ward or unit in all national, regional, and provincial government hospitals.

‘Education’  

The Senate version of the TRAIN also specifically allocated revenue gains to the implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act that provided free college tuition in state universities and colleges, he said.

Commission of Higher Education chairperson Patricia Licuanan earlier said the agency’s proposed budget of P12.4 billion for 2018 does not include the needed funding for the law mandating free tuition in SUCs, pending the implementing rules and regulations of the law. 

Licuanan said the funding requirement is approximately P51 billion to cover the free tuition in 111 SUCs and the University of the Philippines, 16 accredited local universities and colleges, technical-vocational institutions, and financial support for other education-related expenses targeted to poor students.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, said the panel has provided additional P10 million for capital outlay for all SUCs to improve their basic facilities, and committed to look for additional funds to provide free wi-fi for all of them.

“We cannot have leaking classrooms, unpainted buildings, and dirty waterless toilets. Clean structures and buildings are basic needs. More students will be attracted to take up college if our SUCs have the facilities needed and we have competent teachers,” Legarda said.

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