Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri vowed yesterday to fight for the reduction of the P10-a-liter excise tax on s ugar-sweetened drinks and called on sugar industry leadersto lobby for support from the rest of the members of the Senate.
Zubiri, who was in Bacolod, met with leaders of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines and pointed out that he will only be onevote in the Senate without the support of his colleagues.
He specifically cited the need for the support of Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny” Angara, who chairs the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and is sympathetic to the sugar industry.
“I am committing once more to be your whipping boy in the Senate when it reconvenes on the third week of July after the State of the Nation Address of the president,” Zubiri said, even ifhe gets the ire of the country's financial managers.
“We have to fight for our farmers,” he said.
The senator is pushing for the reduction of the P10-a-liter excise tax to P5, and for the retention of the House of Representatives–approved P20 excise tax per liter for sweetened-beverages using High Fructose Corn Syrup and other imported sweeteners.
Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3 rd District) earlier said the Visayan bloc failed to reduce the excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks from P10 per liter to P5, but they were able to double the amount on imported sweeteners.
Zubiri said the tax on sugar sweetened drinks, which includes softdrinksand three-in-one coffee among others, needs to be reduced to prevent a drop in their sales that would gravely affect the Philippine sugar industry, of which Negros Occidental is the largest producer.
The senator had earlier also called for a Senate inquiry on industry complaints against beverage firms' large purchases of HFCS that was driving down the prices of domestically-produced sugar.
The hearing led to Coca-Cola's withdrawing its case that sought to stop the implementation of Sugar Order No. 3 that authorized the Sugar Regulatory Administration to regulate the entry of imported HFCS and to commit to buying more domestic sugar, he said.
Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang, Quezon City RTC Branch 98, has since dismissed with prejudice the case filed by Coca-Cola.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture's unanimous report on the inquiry will state that it supports SO3, the importation of HFCS and other sugar substitutes should be highly regulated, and the DA should protect the country's farmers, he said.
Zubiri said HFCS is a health issue, that is why other nations discourage its use through high taxes, and it is not just an issue of protectionism for Filipino farmers. HFCS is directly absorbed by the kidney and liver that is why it is a bigger threat to diabetes and causes immediate obesity, unlike sugar that is still easily burned by the body, he said.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has also committed to support the mandate of the SRA in implementing SO3, Zubiri pointed out.
Coca-Cola has signified its intention to buy 2 million bags of sugar this crop year and 2.3 bags million more next crop year, he added.
SAP spokesperson Emilio Yulo III said informal talks are ongoing with different firms on an increase in their purchase of domestic sugar.
Sugar Regulatory Administrator Anna Rosario Paner earlier said a sugar production overhang of 400,000MT is expected this crop year.
Yulo said if the firms buy a sufficient volume of Philippine sugar it will reduce the overhang to only the buffer stock needed by the country, and ensure better domestic prices next crop year.
“As of now we are still in exploratory talks,” Yulo said.
Zubiri said he salutes SRA administrator Paner for standing up for the sugar industry amid all the pressures, even from Cabinet secretaries asking her to withdraw or suspend SO3. “She is a very courageous woman, the wonder woman of the sugar industry,” he said.
Yulo, on the other hand, thanked Zuburiin behalf of SAP for his continuing support for the sugar industry.
Meanwhile, Piñol'sproposal to convene a multi-stakeholder meet for the sugar industry to come up with a roadmap has not been set yet, Zubiri said.
Zubiri said the new tax reform package will affect many other industries, he is happy it will not touch taxincentives on cooperatives and renewable energy provided for in the laws that he had authored.*CPG
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