It’s strike two for Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno against Negrenses after his recent pronouncement to liberalize sugar importation that would lead to the demise of the sugar industry, provincial officials said yesterday.
The Negros Occidental Sangguniang Panlalawigan, on mass motion yesterday, passed a resolution strongly opposing the import liberalization proposal of Diokno, while 173 chairpersons of agrarian reform cooperatives and organizations in southern Negros Occidental also issued a similar position in a joint manifesto.
“Sugar in the Philippines is very expensive compared to global prices. We plan to deregulate or relax that industry,” Diokno said last week, adding that this will be implemented within this year.
Negrense senatorial candidate Rafael Alunan yesterday warned that import liberalization without adequate government support to improve the domestic competitiveness would lead to the collapse of the country’s sugar industry.
Provincial officials noted that it was Diokno who also vehemently opposed the creation of the Negros Island Region that led to its dissolution two years ago, and now he wants to liberalize sugar importation.
“The liberalization of sugar importation would open the floodgates to unabated massive unregulated entry of sugar being dumped by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) markets with surplus production,” the SP resolution said.
It added that the proposal of Diokno will spell the demise of the local sugar industry, which is the lifeblood of Negros Occidental.
The SP resolution also warned of economic dislocation of thousands of stakeholders, especially agrarian reform beneficiaries, small farmers and sugar farm workers.
“Such economic dislocation would in time foment widespread social unrest and putting to naught all social economic initiatives of the province,” it added.
A manifesto signed by 173 chairpersons of various agrarian reform cooperatives and organizations from districts 4, 5 and 6 in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, yesterday also aired their opposition to the liberalization of sugar importation.
Protect the sugar industry for the future of Negros, they said.
The gathering of ARB leaders at the Pontevedra gym was facilitated by Mayor Jose Benito Alonso and attended by Sugar Board Member Dino Yulo.
Copies of the manifesto will be sent to Diokno and the country’s senators, they said.
The manifesto states that the agrarian reform beneficiaries are against the plan of Diokno to allow “unrestricted sugar importation” that would drive down millgate prices of Philippine sugar.
To implement this amid the high cost of farm production would lead to a widespread crisis for 250,000 ARBs in Negros who depend on the sugar industry, the manifesto said.
Seventy percent of Negros economy relies on the sugar industry that is the source of livelihood of 55 percent of Negrenses, it said.
The ARBs, in their manifesto, also called for adequate protection and support for the sugar industry through technical and financial subsidy to farmers, and the serious implementation of the agriculture modernization program in the farms and sugar mills.
They also called for the abolition off excise tax on sugar brought on by the TRAIN law and for real and meaningful reforms in the farms.
Alunan stressed the need for government to help improve productivity in the sugar industry.
He said the domestic supply of sugar is dwindling because of the conversion of sugar lands to non agriculture uses, and lack of farm workers.
“We will face a crisis if we don’t mechanize. When supply sinks, prices will go up, hitting the ordinary consumers,” he said.
While government has responsibilities towards Filipino consumers it has an obligation to help farmers improve their productivity and competitiveness, Alunan said. If this is not done, the country will face a food security problem, and if the agricultural sector collapses what will happen to the 20 to 30 million farmers who are dependent on it? he asked.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon on Tuesday also called on all sugar industry stakeholders to unite against the move towards sugar import liberalization saying it will kill the Philippine sugar industry.*
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