The Asin law: Repeal or amend
When traveling north on the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), I always look at Mt. Arayat, jutting out of the Central Luzon plain, and recall childhood summers happily spent with my cousins in San Fernando, Pampanga. Once, we packed lunch, climbed over the wall into the neighbors’ property, and started a trek to Arayat. We didn’t even get close to her foothills and wondered why the mountain that seemed so close seen from our grandparent’s backyard moved away as we walked toward it. That was my first lesson in scale. Walking through rice fields, and being chased away by the angry owner of a haystack we used as a slide, reminded me of the folk song that goes: “Planting rice is never fun/Bent from morn till the set of sun/Cannot stand and cannot sit/Cannot rest for a little bit.” These juvenile memories taught me that the cheerful maidens set in the sunlight of Fernando Amorsolo’s paintings were idealized.
While one can still gaze upon Amorsolo-esque rice fields from NLEx, the landscape has changed much since my childhood. Billboards obscure Arayat, a view that should be protected as national patrimony. Former rice fields are now gated subdivisions, memorial parks, rest stops, and malls. More of the same can be seen driving south to Cavite, as rice fields and salt beds have given way to gated subdivisions, private golf country clubs, and mall strips. What has truly vanished are the salt beds or “asinan” in Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Parañaque, and further on to Mindoro and Iloilo. Before it became associated with the Villars and the Bamboo Organ, Las Piñas was known as the Salt Bed of the Philippines.
Posting vintage photos of Las Piñas salt beds on the Facebook page Manila Nostalgia, Isidra Reyes wrote: “Surprisingly, for a country with 36,289 km of coastline, the Philippines imports 93 percent of its salt supply, mainly from Australia and China. Why did this happen? Looking back, in 1995, RA 8172, better known as the Asin (Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide) law, was enacted, requiring the iodization of salt produced in the country to address micronutrient deficiency diseases such as goiter. The DTI was directed ‘to assist and support local salt producers/manufacturers in upgrading their production technologies to include iodization by helping them obtain soft loans and financial assistance for the procurement of salt iodization machines, packaging equipment and technology and fortificant, and by ensuring systematic distribution of the iodized salt in the market.’ However, it was reported, that DTI failed to give adequate assistance to salt producers and manufacturers, leaving said producers and manufacturers no other recourse but to cease operations as the same law imposed sanctions for violation of said law. To address the shortage brought about by lack of local production, the country resorted to importation of iodized salt. “
It is not just sugar we import, but salt as well. A friend recently joked that the shortage in salt and garlic is not only an issue for our cooks; we now lack the main ingredients to repel aswang! The Asin law is up for review. Should it be repealed or substantially amended? We should look back into its good intentions and its actual implementation. Iodine deficiency, leading to diseases like goiter, is addressed by the law requiring adding iodine to salt. However, not all places in the Philippines have an iodine problem. Shouldn’t we focus on providing iodine to mountainous regions like the Cordilleras and leave the rest of the population who meet their iodine fix from fish and other food? It is unfortunate that Filipino salt producers are forced by Asin law to iodize their products, leaving the consumer, who doesn’t want or need iodized salt, to choose imported salt like Himalayan pink salt that need not be iodized to be sold locally.
Connoisseurs have been raving about artisanal salt from Pangasinan and Ilocos recently; iodization will ruin it. Historically, we have seen the needless alteration of the Filipino palate. Staples of the Filipino table and diet like patis (fish sauce), bagoong (fermented fish or shrimp paste), tuyo, and daing (dried fish) made with processed iodized salt, taste differently from traditional ones made with natural salt. If legislation on something as simple as table salt needs review or repeal, can you imagine what else we will find if we take the trouble to look into them?
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