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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, February 7, 2019
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10 senators back sugar industry
Score import liberalization
BY CARLA P. GOMEZ

 

The Senate yesterday urged the executive department not to pursue the planned liberalization of the sugar industry to safeguard the economy, and the welfare of sugar farmers and industry workers in 28 provinces in the country, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

The call was contained in a resolution adopted by the Senate, that was authored by senators Sonny Angara, Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, and Zubiri.

Recent statements made by the country’s economic managers on the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry through deregulation of imports and allowing users of sugar to directly import havecreated a stir and fear among the stakeholders in the sugar industry, the 10 senators said in their resolution.

The country’s economic managers reportedly proposed the liberalization of sugar imports due to the high prices of local sugar against those in the world market, and for allegedly affecting the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export, they said.

The liberalization or deregulation of the sugar industry will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export because it is already a policy of the Sugar Regulatory Administration to allow food exporters to openly import sugar without value-added tax or customs duties provided that the end-product is exported and not sold locally, they pointed out.

The deregulated entry of subsidized sugar into the Philippine market will be disastrous to our sugar industry, which contributes an estimated P96 billion to the Gross Domestic Product, they said. It will also affect 84,000 farmers -mostly small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries, with each tilling less than a hectare of sugar farmland and 720,000 industry workers directly affecting almost a million families or 5 million individuals,” the senators said.

COUNTRYWIDE EFFECTS

These sugar farmers and farm workers are scattered across 28 provinces in the country such as Cagayan Valley, Isabela, Kalinga, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Leyte, Cebu, Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Sarangani Province, North and South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and parts of Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, Cavite, Quezon Province and Lanao del Sur, they also pointed out.

If the sugar industry will collapse as a result of the liberalization, poverty incidence in these provinces will increase and they will become the hotbeds of insurgency and criminality, the senators warned.

SIDA POLICIES

The Sugar Industry Development Act was enacted into law only in 2015 and it adopts as the policy of the State “to promote the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and maximize the utilizationof sugarcane resources”, the senators said.

Under that policy declaration, the state will establish productivity improvement programs, provide the needed infrastructure support, enhance research development of other products derived from sugar, sugarcane and their by-products, provide human resource development and extension services, and financial assistance to farmers, the senators added.

The SIDA of 2015 is barely four years into effect, and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized, so any plan of liberalizing the sugar industry becomes irrelevant and very untimely, the senators said.

CONTRADICTS PRESIDENT’S THRUST

The proposed liberalization of the sugar industry will contradict the Presidents thrust towards food security and will severely affect the entire agriculture sector, the senators said.

The SRA will continue to regulate the supply of sugar pursuant to its mandate under Executive Order No. 18, series of 1986 and in compliance with the president’s Administrative Order No. 13, series of 2018, as the liberalization of the sugar industry will tragically affect a lot of farmers and workers all over the country, they said.

GRATITUDE AND SUPPORT

Sugar leaders, in response, thanked the senators for their support, and vowed they will not be forgotten at the polls.

Sugar Board Member Emilio “Dino” Yulo III said, “W e are very thankful that our senators closed ranks with us. This just shows they understand the plight of the sugar industry and its stakeholders.”

“We know the battle is far from over but this Senate resolution gives us a glimmer of hope that all is not lost,” Yulo added.

Raymond Montinola, spokesperson of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations said, “We are happy that we still have friends in the right places that understand the workings of the sugar industry.”

“Which is also why we should always remember who our allies are and who have our backs,” he added.

They are not also letting their guards down and will continue to be vigilant and seek the intervention of the President to ensure that the plans of the economic managers will never be implemented, Montinola said.

Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, said, “The entire sugar industry is deeply grateful to the 10 senators.”

“They can rest assured that the industry will also support them in the coming elections,” he said.

“We also call on other senators and lawmakers to help the industry in this battle, and we assure you that, like the ten senators, you will not be forgotten by five million Filipinos and stakeholders of the industry,” he said.

The United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines is thanking Senator Zubiri for rallying the other senators to sign the resolution against sugar import liberalization, UNIFED president Manuel Lamata said.

“We also thank the senators who signed the resolution. The industry will show its gratitude this coming election in May,” he added.*

 

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