The sugar industry will not stand down, it will continue its fight against sugar import liberalization.
That was the reaction of its leaders yesterday to the statement of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia that the need forimportliberalizationis a collegial standof the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) of the Cabinet to bring sugar prices down.
“We reiterate that we will not stand down and we will continue with our protest, be it in the airwaves, the papers, in the halls of Congress and even in the streets,” Sugar Board Member Emilio “Dino” Yulo III said.
Small farmers and leaders of agrarian reform beneficiaries’ groupshave vowed to lead a mobilization soon to amplify their concerns to the national government, Yulo added.
“What is at stake here is the livelihood of five million Filipinos, the more than P100 billion annual contribution of the industry to the national economy, and the hundreds of billions of investments in the industry,” Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, warned yesterday.
Sugar Board Member Roland Beltran said “What’s certain is that killing the sugarcane industry will take away the livelihood of thousands of small farmers and sugar workers. It is morally wrong and politically absurd to deprive them of their fundamental right to earn a living.”
Rojas said the statement of Pernia that the planned sugar import liberalization is a collegial policy decision of the EDC is very alarming.
“We call on all industry stakeholders to unite and work doubly hard to enlighten these policy makers on the terrible effects of this policy to the industry,” Rojas said.
“We need to make them realize that there are other options to bring down retail sugar prices, than unregulated importation,” he added.
Government should focus more on regulating the huge profits of traders, who sell sugar at a high price in the retail market, even though they buy sugar at a cheap price from the producers, Rojas said.
Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica of the Sugar Regulatory Administration said the statement of Pernia is just a press release, it is not a policy yet.
The mandate of SRA under Executive Order No. 18 is very much in effect , he said, pointing out that a sugarcane industry road map summit on February 11 and 12 will tackle the position of the industry with the challenges on liberalization and globalization.
CONFED Negros Panay chapter president, Nicolas Ledesma Jr., said the National Economic and Development Authority should request the Department of Trade and Industry to enforcethe Suggested Retail Price of sugar to prevent significant price increases.
SRA has regulatory powers to import, if needed, to balance supply and prevent surges in prices. In addition, the federation continues to offer consumers sugar (retail) close to farm gate prices setup through different associations, Ledesma added.
There is no justification for liberalization, he said.
Yulo said “delicadeza dictates that Sec. Pernia should keep quiet about this issue.”
He pointed out that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol who publicly came out with his support for the sugar industry is also a member of the EDC. Pernia said the sugar import liberalization proposal was a “collegial stand” of the EDC, unless of course Piñol was intentionally left out in that meeting where they decided the fate of the sugar industry, Yulo added.
Yulo said they are thankful to the local governments of the Negros Occidental and Bukidnon provinces, Bacolod, Silay, Talisay and Himamaylan cities, and Binalbagan, Isabela and La Castellana towns for coming out with manifestos opposing sugar import liberalization.
“We hope other LGUs will follow suit as we need to stand united against this issue,” he said.
Yulo said they are also thankful to some members of Congress who are backing their opposition, citing Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya who is set to deliver a privilege speech before the House of Representatives adjourns this week in the hope that his colleagues will listen to the industry’s plea.*
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