Sugar leaders yesterday thanked Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for backing the sugar industry, and for organizing a stakeholders summit to come up with a 5-year roadmap to combat the challenges of globalization and liberalization.
However, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, in a post on the National Economic and Development Authority website yesterday, said that after the Rice Tariffication Bill is signed into law, the government is looking into opening up the sugar sector next.
“The sugar liberalization idea came up during the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) meeting January 14 on rice tariffication and, in general, on keeping prices of food products low and always in check,” Pernia said.
He said that sugar tariffication was a collegial idea of the EDC, which may subsequently lead to policy decision and action.
“Sugar is very expensive in the country as supply is dominated by a select few. Intermediation costs are also high,” Pernia added.
WORTH A TRY?
“We hope to open up the sector to freer importation, and reduce the price of sugar. It will be a tough battle, but it should be worth the try,” he added.
The EDC is composed of the Department of Finance as Chair, the NEDA, the Department of Budget and Management, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, the Cabinet Secretary, Executive Secretary, and the Presidential Management Staff, among others
Piñol, on Wednesday, assured the industry that President Rodrigo Duterte will not act on the proposed import liberalization of sugar without proper consultations.
He said Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s statements on sugar import liberalization were his personal views, and do not reflect government policy.
Piñol is set to hold a sugar industry stakeholders summit at the Department of Agriculture central office in Manila February 11 to 12.
Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Plantes, said “We are grateful to Sec. Manny Piñol for assuring the industry that he has our back”.
“The summit is a laudable idea, which will allow us to set a five-year road map for the industry,” Rojas also said.
Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica of the Sugar Regulatory Administration invited him to the summit and to bring some NFSP association presidents, he said, adding that they will attend.
“We will take this opportunity for all industry stakeholders to come up with a unified stand in defense of the industry,” Rojas said.
“In the summit, we hope to enlighten our officials and the public on the significance of the industry to the national economy, the welfare of the five million Filipinos who depend on it for their livelihood, and the sustainability of the hundreds of billions invested in the industry’s sugar mills, refineries, bioethanol distilleries and biomass power plants,” Rojas added.
NOT OFFICIAL POLICY
He said they agree with Piñol’s statement that Diokno’s views are his personal opinion and are not official state policy. “However, we urge all industry stakeholders not to let down their guards because, apparently, there are some sectors who are out to sabotage the industry, for the sole purpose of gaining personal profit,” Rojas warned.
Manuel Lamata, United Sugar Producers’ Federation of the Philippines president, said he is thanking Piñol for standing firm with the sugar industry.
“We in UNIFED condemn this (import liberalization) move. Sec. Piñol is correct in saying it is Sec. Diokno’s opinion,” he said.
MEET WITH SENATE BETS
Lamata said the sugar leaders in a talk with incoming governor Eugenio Jose Lacson and incoming vice governor Jeffrey Ferrer requested that a meeting be arranged with senatorial candidates to seek their help in behalf of the sugar industry.
Among the senate bets being invited to the meeting are Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Bong Go, re-electionist Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito, Nancy Binay and Edgardo “Sonny” Angara to listen to the sugar industry stakeholders opposition to import liberalization, he said.
“We have to unite as one especially during election day. We vote as one industry to show the administration that we also know how respect the political will of the present administration,” he said.
CONFED Negros Panay chapter president, Nicolas Ledesma Jr., said the su gar summit is a welcome opportunity to revisit the masterplan formulated by the sugar federations and to reassess what needs to be modified.
“It also gives us a chance to raise awareness about the minute’ use of sugar by consumers and the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s powers to balance supply with importations, if needed,” Ledesma added.
Diokno’s statement on import liberalization is his opinion as one of the economic managers, “the reason why we are reaching out and explaining our opposition to his plan for liberalization”, he added.*
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