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Bitter pill

By: 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 P5 or P10 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 P10 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 entrePinay 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.