The push for import liberation by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry is “begging for mass murder of a struggling sector that is ill-prepared for competition”, from a farmer’s point of view, former Sugar Regulatory Administrator Rafael Coscolluela said.
Coscolluela said the import liberation will only benefit the industrial and manufacturing sectors.
The reality is that agricultural commodities are so highly political that many countries provide direct or hidden subsidies so their farmers remain viable, or else they risk violent protests and unsure food supply, said Coscolluela, who also served as governor of Negros Occidental for nine years.
In the case of Philippine sugar, he said the industry enjoyed little support, especially subsidies from the government until the passage of SIDA or the Sugar Industry Development Act, but which is so laden with bureaucratic red tape that availment has moved at snail’s pace.
Congress had reduced the SIDA annual budget from P2 billion to P500 million this year, as recommended by the Department of Budget and Management, a move questioned by Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, who had pushed for an investigation.
PCCI chairman George Barcelon earlier suggested a more liberal regime for importing sugar, modeled on the rice tariffication bill, with tariffs to benefit domestic sugar farmers, as he stressed that the sugar industry is not competitive.
While he stressed the need for the sugar industry to modernize and improve its productivity, Coscolluela, who posted his sentiments on his Facebook account, said there are many factors that militate against the realization of those goals.
He said land reform makes modernization and farm mechanization very difficult because sugarcane is a plantation crop that needs a minimum area to have economies of scale, adding that small farms given to farm workers are not likely to become anywhere near being “competitive”.
It is also difficult to consolidate individual beneficiaries to run communal farms, Coscolluela said, noting that the block farms program of the SRA is painstakingly slow and prone to setbacks.
Marcos suggested that agrarian reform beneficiaries should combine their acquired properties so that they can easily avail of the mechanization program of the government.*
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