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Outside the box

By: Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

Balancing the healthy and the affordable is a tough challenge particularly for the government as it is responsible in serving the people with both health and economic welfare.

The misconstrued comment of Senator Cynthia Villar, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, about “unli rice” is a clear illustration of the challenge that the government is faced with.

Taken in the context of the Senate inquiry on the country’s capability to produce enough rice to meet local demand and related conditions like rice wastage, the comment of Senator Villar was a mere reactionary opinion. In fairness to her, she did not mention that she is proposing nor did she say that she would propose a legislative measure to ban “unli rice” offering by food establishments.

No one can also argue against another context of her comment on “unli rice”—the need for Filipinos to reduce rice consumption as it is directly related to the growing number of diabetes cases in the country.

The off-context news on Senator Villar’s comment drew negative reactions particularly by netizens. Such negative reactions were expected because the reported “ban” is obviously anti-poor. The “unli rice” offering of some food establishments has been benefitting Filipinos who are on tight budget.

Another case that illustrates this government challenge is the proposal of Masbate Representative Scott Davies Lanete, who is also a doctor, to impose excise tax on salty processed foods.

If Congress finally passes the proposed tax reform measure, which includes the imposition of ten pesos excise tax per liter of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, there appears no reason why the proposal of Representative Lanete will not be approved by Congress.

While taxing salty processed foods has the same health objectives as taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, one can expect stronger opposition against the former because it will mean higher prices for the more poor-friendly food items like instant noodles and canned food.

Balancing the health and economic needs of the people will remain to be a responsibility of the government. While taxation and prohibitions also remain to be available options for the government, there are other options. This is not a matter of taxing and banning as the one ways to achieve health objectives.

The real challenge is for the Department of Health to design and implement programs that will address the Filipinos’ health challenges – programs that are outside the “box” of making the people pay more taxes or limiting their choices and actions.

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Happy birthday, Laurene. You know what that means.

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