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DOH wants additional taxes on junk food, sweetened beverages

The Department of Health (DOH) is pushing for additional taxes on junk food and sweetened beverages, as it seeks to address obesity in the country and boost revenues for the universal healthcare program.

According to DOH Officer in Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, imposing additional taxes on the said products would lessen consumption, as seen when taxes were imposed on alcoholic drinks and tobacco products.

“Alam po nating lahat na ang sweetened beverages at saka ‘yung junk food can contribute to obesity or overweight, and these contributing factors become lifestyle-related factors,” she said in Bernadette Reyes' report on GMA’s “24 Oras Weekend” on Sunday.

“May mga pag-aaral na na kapag ang bata naumpisahan sa mga ganitong klaseng pagkain, ‘pag laki nila obese din sila and pumapasok na ‘yung risk nila sa iba’t ibang mga non-communicable diseases,” she added.

(We all know that sweetened beverages and junk food can contribute to obesity or being overweight, and these contributing factors become lifestyle-related factors. There have been studies that if children start to consume these kinds of food, they grow up to be obese and are at risk from non-communicable diseases.)

The DOH has yet to provide a specific proposal on the taxes, but Vergeire said the additional revenue will be used to finance the Universal Healthcare Law which automatically enrolls all Filipino citizens under the National Health Insurance Program.

“Ganito po ‘yung gusto nating makita [This is what we want to see] in the coming years, that these sin taxes can fund the different interventions that we do to provide universal healthcare for everybody,” she said.

Some P155 billion in revenue was used to finance the Universal Healthcare Law in the country this year, as Vergeire said this was part of the government’s strategy to regulate and control lifestyle risk factors.

A 2020 study conducted by the National Tax Research Center (NTRC) showed that the country could raise as much as P72.97 billion from a 20% excise tax collection on junk food, P54.73 billion from 15%, and P36.48 billion from 10%.

Meanwhile, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017 mandates a P6-per-liter excise tax on beverages using caloric and non-caloric sweeteners, and P12 per-liter tax on beverages using high-fructose corn syrup.

The DOF said collections from tax reform measures — including TRAIN, the Tax Amnesty Act, and the Sin Tax Reform — reaped P171.1 billion in revenue last year, 8.3% higher than the target of P157.9 billion.

The department under the previous administration — headed by former Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III — in May called for reform on health taxes covering alcopops, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, sweetened beverages, and non-nutritious food.

It also said the incoming administrations will have to raise P249 billion in additional revenue in the next 10 years to pay the historic P3.2-trillion additional debt incurred following the COVID-19 pandemic.

For his part, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno already earlier floated the idea of additional taxes on digital transactions and streaming services to boost revenues.

The DOF last month also said it will pursue taxes on single-use plastics, in line with sustainable development goals. — Jon Viktor Cabuenas/DVM, GMA News