Bit­ter pill

Tempo - - Editorial - Jul­lie Y. Daza

AGREE or dis­agree: “There is no longer a mid­dle-in­come class. There are only the rich and the poor.”

The quote is from Pres­i­dent Duterte, when he ad­dressed the Philip­pine Con­sti­tu­tion As­so­ci­a­tion last Tues­day. Whether he has a sweet tooth or not, I’m afraid the tax on sugar sweet­ened bev­er­ages will be a bit­ter pill for the work­ing class to swal­low, once they’re de­prived of the cheap­est source of sugar, en­ergy, and fun.

I’m nei­ther a nu­tri­tion­ist who knows pre­cisely how cut­ting down on sugar may im­prove a na­tion’s health, nor a leg­is­la­tor who grasps the im­pli­ca­tions of a tax pack­age that will raise badly needed funds while de­priv­ing the masses of a cold sweet drink at the end of a long hard day. As a rule I don’t drink so­das, but when I ob­serve how stu­dents, la­bor­ers, masseuses, DI’s, driv­ers and their street-smart peers cel­e­brate and con­grat­u­late them­selves for hav­ing en­dured an­other work­ing day by serv­ing them­selves a bot­tle of pop, I have to won­der how an ad­di­tional ₱5 or ₱10 will now af­fect their sweet lit­tle vice. For sure, many of them will give it up, but it’s also likely that af­ter the first sev­eral days crav­ing, they’ll start hav­ing and drink­ing again. What about those who can no longer and truly af­ford the higher-priced co­las?

You can say all the neg­a­tive things about co­las and you can say that the tax will build dis­ci­pline along with bridges and sub­ways – what about the hap­pi­ness fac­tor for peo­ple who can­not af­ford de­signer teas, cof­fees, ice cream?

Vicky Aguinaldo, a sari-sari store­owner, dreads the death of her liveli­hood be­cause soft drinks ac­count for 40 per­cent of her sales. Cherry Ramos, who rep­re­sents Tang, anx­iously ap­peals for a com­pro­mise, be­cause at ₱10 per sa­chet, the vi­ta­min-packed or­ange-fla­vored pow­der added to a liter of wa­ter makes five serv­ings, cheaper than soft drinks. (Re­mem­ber how Digong twit­ted Joma Si­son, “Just drink your Tang!”? Well, Tang is fa­vored by the D and E sec­tors, and that’s not where the NDF head be­longs, out there in the Nether­lands.)

Vicky is typ­i­cal of the en­tre-Pi­nay who runs a busi­ness while watch­ing her fam­ily. She heads a group of 6,000 but there are ac­tu­ally 1.3 mil­lion sari-sari own­ers na­tion­wide. Ex-Rep. Ro­man Ro­mulo, speak­ing for the bev­er­age in­dus­try, hopes the next hear­ings will bear out the lack of com­mon sense, utang na loob, in tax­ing a liter of wa­ter.

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