Salt is not 'a sin,' groups opposed to tax to curb consumption of salty food stress
Sin Tax Coalition said that minimum wage earners depend on cheap, salty foods like daing and tuyo for sustenance and urged the DOH to ensure healthier products from food manufacturers instead of taxing salty foods.
MAFBEX photo release, file
Salt is not 'a sin,' groups opposed to tax to curb consumption of salty food stress
Franco Luna ( - November 5, 2019 - 9:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — Days after the Department of Health proposed a tax to discourage the consumption of too much salty food, groups have called for the department to rethink its approach. 

The proposal came on the heels of a joint statement by the DOH, World Health Organization, the UN Development Programme and the UN Interagency Task Force that salty food is a major factor that increased the risk of non-communicable diseases that caused 68% of deaths in the country.

According to the joint statement, these diseases cost the Philippines a total of P756.5 billion annually, or 4.8% of the country's GDP. 

However, the main criticism against the proposed tax was that it put minimum wage earners who depend on cheap, but unhealthy food at a pronounced disadvantage. 

Sin Tax Law of 2012

Former Anakpawis lawmaker Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao tooke issue with the decision to label a levy on salt as sin tax, which is a form of excise tax imposed on goods considered harmful to people and society partly to discourage their consumption.

In a DOH statement on imposing "sin taxes" on cigarettes, Health Secretary Francisco Duque was careful to state that “[s]in taxes are first and foremost, a health measure that will discourage Filipinos to smoke and excessively consume alcohol."

The Department of Finance echoed this statement, saying that Sin Tax is “primarily a health measure with revenue implications, but more fundamentally, it is a good governance measure. 

"As global evidence suggests, taxation is the single, most cost-effective measure to safeguard the public from the harms of tobacco and alcohol use and their accompanying societal costs," Duque added. 

Republic Act No. 10351 was one of the landmark reforms of the Aquino administration that sought to amend certain sections of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 to include taxes on distilled spirits, wines, fermented liquors and tobacco products. 

For alcohol taxes imposed on whisky, brandy, rum, gin and vodka, the amount taxed is “proportionally increased for any strength of the spirits taxed over proof spirits.” On the other hand, most tobacco products yield an excise tax of P1.75 on each kilogram of tobacco products.

Erring manufacturers or importers are handed penalties in the form of summary cancellations or withdrawals of their business permits. 

As of January 2017, cigarettes packed by machine were taxed P30 per pack. The taxation rates have increased by 4% each succeeding year. The 2018 annual report of the Sin Tax acknowledged the tax's economic benefits in that "the revenue for health expanded the budget of the DOH, thus enabling further development of existing programs and [the] introduction of new health services."

“We can understand the rationale behind taxing alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks. These are inessential food items that are bad for the health of our people, so we can get behind measures to curb their consumption,” Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. (6th District, Manila) said.

“However, we must draw the line at taxing food that our countrymen regularly consume, particularly the poor. I believe to tax salty food would be too much. You want the poor to bear the brunt of the tax measure?”

For his part, Casilao called the ‘sin tax’ classification for salt tax “the height of callousness.”

An Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on October 30 that such a tax could adversely impact the market for basic goods. “[If it does get taxed], it should not be so big that it would seem [like] we don’t want it to be consumed, [because] this is being consumed by the general public,” he said.

Rep. Janette Garin (Iloilo), a former Health secretary herself, said that if this was really a health problem, then revisiting the ASIN Law was a better approach to solving excessive salt consumption. 

Republic Act No. 8172 or An Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide enacted in 1995 to address the country's micronutrient deficit through “the cost-effective preventive measure of salt iodization.” The act declares as a policy of the State “to protect and promote the health of the people” and “to provide the entire population [with] proper nutrition.”

According to the World Health Organization, iodization refers to the process of “fortifying salt for human consumption with iodine.” 

And although the aforementioned act was geared towards the iodization of local salt, some regulatory provisions were also included. For instance, upon passage of the law, all restaurants. establishments and food manufacturers were required to use only iodized salt. Violators of the law may be handed fines of up to P100,000.

Dr. Anthony Leachon, co-convenor of civil group Sin Tax Coalition said that DOH should instead urge manufacturers to make their products healthier for Filipinos instead of taxing salt. "That’s the essence of our advocacy — for manufacturing [companies] to reformulate their contents to be healthier with less salt," he said.

READ: Don't tax salt, urge manufacturers to make healthier food instead — group

For Garin, this starts with going back to the ASIN Law.

“RA 8172 was enacted to address the lack of micronutrients in the country, and after more than 20 years of its passage, a probe is necessary to discuss solutions that are relevant not just to health, but also in the preservation of culture and means of livelihood for those families who depend on the local salt industry,” she said.

'Nothing new' 

The possibility of taxing salt was already proposed in the 17th Congress, namely in the form of then-Rep. Scott Lanete (Masbate)'s House Bill 3719, or An Act Amending Certain Provisions of Republic Act No. 8424 Otherwise Known As the "National Internal Revenue Code of 1997" and for Other Purposes.  

"During ancient times, salt was heavily taxed due to its importance in various cuisines and rarity," the House bill said in starting its explanatory note. 

It went on to call salt a "silent killer" due to its links to higher risks of heart attack and stroke, citing that other nations have also imposed salt taxes, which the note said could "pressure citizens into adopting a healthier diet.” 

The act looked to impose excise tax of P1 for every milligram of salt "in excess of one-third the [prescribed DOH intake]" on manufactured products that include sodium chloride as an ingredient like "canned goods, processed food, and junk food." 

“Dahil po sa mga pahirap na bills na ito ay di na tayo magtataka kung umabot sa libo ang presyo ng instant noodles at iba pang pagkain. Lalong magugutom ang mahihirap, maging ang middle class,” Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna) said of the bill in a June 2017 statement.

(Because of the bills that bring suffering, it will be no surprise if the price of instant noodles and other food will reach thousands of pesos. The poor will be even hungrier, and even the middle class)

In 2015, every Filipino needed at least P1,266 per month to fulfill their basic food necessities, whereas a family of five needed at least P6,329 monthly for the same needs, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority said.

“There are other ways for ensuring the health of Filipinos and more taxation is not among them,” Zarate added. “The poor have little or no income at all and most of the times they have no choice but to buy cheap non-nutritious food.”

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