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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 11, 2019
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with Matè Espina

Where are thou Negros solons?

Rock & Refuge

It’s a bit amazing that among the supposed eight congressional representatives we have in this province, only three have publicly stated their sentiments and support for a panic-stricken sugar industry.

What is more astonishing is that Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya, who barely has sugar stakeholders in his constituency, is the one who offered to make a privilege speech in behalf of the small sugar farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries last week.

Of course if you go with the residency of many of the big planters in Negros then you will find them mostly in Bacolod, Talisay and Silay. But they are usually registered voters in the towns or cities where their farms are located so what has Cong. Greg got to gain from it.

Another who has been taking the cudgels for the sugar industry from the time of the high fructose corn syrup to the sugar sweetened beverage tax lobby is Abang Lingkod Partylist Rep. Stephen “Carapali” Paduano who had a mouthful to say against Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and where the SIDA unused funds ended up.

And then Rep. Leo Rafael Cueva (Neg. Occ., 2nd District) pointed out that indeed, wishing for an agricultural industry’s death is in conflict with government’s program on food security.

But since mid-January when the liberalization issue came out in public, other Negros solons have preferred to stay silent.

In fact, several days ago, labor groups and ARBs raised the same concern even to a point of issuing a subtle threat that these lawmakers ought to remember that their votes come from majority of those who are in one way or another connected to the sugar industry.

Ah…but I think that just answered their question.

Unfortunately for those who are stressing over this liberalization issue, most, if not all of the solons in our province are either not running, are uncontested in the coming election, or running for a different position, so why should they even care.

This is probably the downside when political line-ups are negotiated backdoor instead of allowing a more democratic process to happen because at least it puts them on their toes and leaves them no room for complacency to rally for the cause of the province.

I got hold of Cong. Greg’s speech that he manifested be entered into the books of the lower house and where he submitted the opposition papers signed by 172 ARB groups (mind you these groups are all from outside of Bacolod) and the one that captured my interest was the paragraph where he said he is not a planter, nor any of his family are into sugar farming, yet growing up in Bacolod in the 80s at the slump of the sugar industry, “I saw what an embattled industry’s effect had on our communities,” and praying that it will never happen again.

That’s exactly the message that should be delivered to those who are nonchalant about this issue and makes themselves believe they are far from being affected by it if they belong to another sector because we’ve seen it happen before – it touches everyone when the sugar industry will collapse.

Joel Abong, the face of hunger in Negros in the 80’s, was a patient of our mom. Contrary to what many think, Joel was not the son of a sugar worker but that of a fisherman who lived in Banago.

With Negros economy being fuelled by the sugar industry, where will the money that will support other livelihood and businesses come from? Believe me, there will be a lot of hair-pulling from investors who just setup business here if the sugar industry will not be able to overcome this new challenge.

Perhaps the only sector who will least be affected will be the BPO industry since their income comes from foreign companies, but all else will be.

From food, to shelter, to schools, even those in the service industry, all will feel the effects as recent history has shown us. Do we wait for that to happen before having our voices join those who have been crying hoarse about it?

Simply put, we cannot be uncaring about this issue nor with other issues that has been knocking on our doors for the past years. We have developed a culture of indifference and that is probably why we are in this mess as a nation.

Going back to our solons, (at least those who are speaking out), a point Cong. Paduano raised was a provision in the SIDA law that says, Congress must evaluate the implementation of the SIDA fund six years after it was passed to determine whether it should continue, be abolished or augmented.

The fact that it has not been fully utilized due to government bureaucracy as well, what is there to evaluate a few years from now?

Ah….but I think that should not really be a problem. We have silent representations in Congress anyway.*

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