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House kills salt tax proposal

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
House kills salt tax proposal
DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the department is looking into proposing a tax on food with high salt content.
Ernie Penaredondo

MANILA,Philippines — The House of Representatives yesterday doused cold water on the proposal to impose tax on salt, effectively killing it even before the proponent Department of Health (DOH) could submit it to the chamber where tax measures originate.

“While we take cognizance of the DOH and World Health Organization’s warnings of negative health impacts of high salt content on our consumption patterns, we are also concerned that this will constitute a tax on the entire food item,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who chairs the committee on ways and means, said.

He said the House “takes the highest level of care when it comes to taxing food, especially when we are targeting specific items like sugar and salt which are only one of its many ingredients, many of which are beneficial to health.”

He said a tax on salt would be inflationary and “highly regressive,” meaning it would burden the poor more than the rich. 

“In the midst of supply problems from African swine fever, this would particularly push prices of processed meat products,” Salceda stressed.

He added that instead of the proposed tax on salt, the House would consider imposing a junk food levy “since the consumptive logic of such eating habit is more obvious and pernicious to a most vulnerable population segment – our young people.”

On Wednesday, DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the department is looking into proposing a tax on food with high salt content.

He said too much salt causes a number of ailments, including hypertension and heart and kidney diseases.

The experience of several countries showed that taxing unhealthy food led to reduced consumption and prompted producers to reformulate their products, he said.

The DOH proposal is similar to the sugar tax Congress imposed last year. The imposition of the levy aims to discourage consumption of sugary products and at the same time raise additional revenues for the government. Sugary products are the main cause of diabetes and a lot of other health problems.

Diabetes, kidney failure, hypertension and other ailments associated with salt and sugar consumption are now common among Filipinos.

In the 17th Congress, then Masbate congressman Scott Davies Lanete filed a bill seeking to impose a P1 tax on every milligram (mg) of salt used in junk food and processed products, but the House failed to pass it.

Any tax proposal has to pass through Salceda and his committee. If they put their foot down, the measure goes to the graveyard. Under the Constitution, tax bills originate from the House.

Salceda said the DOH “cannot be passing the ball of health outcomes to tax policy when it has yet to demonstrate and execute affirmative action on health issues such as polio, dengue and other diseases.”

Aside from the head of the ways and means committee, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate voiced opposition to the proposed salt tax, saying it would be a big burden on the poor.

He said if a tax of P1 per-mg of salt were imposed, a cup of instant noodles with a 990-mg content would cost P490, while a can of sardines with 610 mg of sodium would sell for P110.

He said these are the products that many poor families buy as part of their daily diet.

“It is not the sin of the poor that they can only afford a poor man’s diet. It is poverty that prevents them from getting healthy food,” Zarate stressed. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the DOH was going “overboard” with its proposal to impose tax on food products with high salt content.  –  With Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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