Some 300,000 low-income patrons and owners of sari-sari (community) stores and carinderia (small restaurants) all over the country have signed a petition asking the government to scrap a proposed on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) now pending in the Senate.
The signature drive was spearheaded by the Philippine Association of Stores and Carinderia Owners (Pasco), which said the additional excise tax on beverages, such as soft drinks and powdered juices, will jack up prices and effectively destroy the livelihood of millions of Filipinos.
“What will happen to our livelihood if this additional tax becomes a law? We fear that we will totally lose it,” Pasco President Vicky Aguinaldo said.
In an open letter, the group said it supports the Duterte administration’s poverty-alleviation program, but the “sweet tax” is anti-poor. Some 80 percent of the consumers of affected products are low-income earners, while the covered goods constitute 40 percent of the income of sari-sari store owners.
“We understand and support our government’s need to raise money for its various social and infrastructure programs to help improve the lives of the Filipino people and sustain the country’s economic growth, [but] this bill is anti-poor and will make micro-retailers, consumers, sugar and coffee farmers and manufacturing workers carry the burden.”
The 300,000 signatures gathered on the ground through regional advocacy and petition-gathering initiatives of thousands of volunteers from stakeholders of sari-sari stores are expected to swell, as opposition to the sugary drinks tax gathers momentum with the pending approval of the Senate version this month.
The “sweet tax” is part of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill, expected to be signed into law in December.
Oppositors said the spirit of the bill—which intends to reduce income tax for minimum wage earners—might be completely diminished by the drastic increase in prices of basic commodities.
Meanwhile, coffee farmers and the Philippine Association of Agriculturists (PAA) welcome the exclusion of 3-in-1 coffee from the SSB tax in Senate Bill 1592, which has been approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is currently on second reading.
According to the farmers, the local output of green coffee beans, estimated at 23,000 tons annually, will not be put to a disadvantage compared to those of high-end coffee shops, whose products will not be taxed.
SSBs, according to House Bill 5636, encompass all “nonalcoholic beverages that contain caloric sweeteners, added sugar, or artificial/noncaloric sweetener (may they be in liquid, syrup, concentrate, or solid form) that is added to water [or other liquids] to make a drink.”
The proposal of the Senate bill is to levy a tax on SSBs at P10 per liter of volume capacity for beverages sweetened with local sugar, and P20 for those using high-fructose corn syrup or imported sugar.
The rates are scheduled to increase by 4 percent every year, starting from the year of predicted commencement in 2018.
The measure effectively exempts beverages not sold as ready-to-drink, premixed or sweetened, such as those sold in chain coffee shops.
For the PAA, the exemption would mean a better chance to attain their industry’s growth projections.