Another group of agrarian reform beneficiaries in Negros Occidental is also opposing the proposed liberalization of sugar importation, claiming government “should seriously consider the importance of the industry to the national economy and nation-building, and the adverse impact of such policy on millions of marginal farmers, farm workers, and their families”.
“Don’t kill the sugar industry that contributes about P150 billion annually to the national economy, earns the highest foreign income for the Philippines during the country’s infancy, takes care of its workers through the Social Amelioration Program, and feeds five million Filipinos,” Aaron Sorbito, chairman of the ARBs Sugar Farmers Federation–Kilusang Pagbabago, said in a press release yesterday.
The group, composed of 11 ARB associations in Negros, said that, per data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration, the industry contributed P87 billion to the national economy in Crop Year 2013-2014. This covers revenues from the sale of raw and refined sugar, bioethanol, molasses, tolling fees of refined sugar, and value-added tax on tolling and sale of refined sugar.
“Including the sales generated from the industry’s biomass power generation, this figure could run into more than P100 billion today. If we add the about P50 billion collected last year from excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, which mostly use sugar because of the higher excise tax on HFCS, the industry contributes P150 billion yearly to the country’s economy,” Sorbito claimed.
Ranie Lava, federation secretary-general and former chairman of the National Federation of Sugar Workers Negros, lamented that government has not done its share in helping small sugarcane farmers, out of the income it gets from the industry.
Even the Sugarcane Industry Development Act’s annual allocation of P2 billion, which has been trimmed to only around P500 million this year due to underutilization by the SRA, hardly trickles down to ARBs, he added.
SRA figures show that, for Crop Year 2016-2017, 85 percent or 75,241 of sugarcane farmers are marginal growers who are farming five hectares or less. About 14 percent or 12,354 cultivate more than five hectares to 50 hectares, while only 1 percent or 1,153 operate plantation-size farms of more than 50 hectares, the press release said.
Lava claimed the new faces of the sugar industry are the ARBs, who mostly farm less than one hectare of sugarcane.
“The days of the sugar barons and hacienderos are long gone. With more than three decades of CARP, large landholdings were parcelized and distributed to farm workers. Owing to their number, these new landowners, the small farmers, are the new faces of the sugar industry. The autocrats in Manila should also consider this, when they propose laws which will adversely affect us,” he said.
Out of all sectors, only the sugar industry has a Social Amelioration Program for the welfare of its workers. Sugar producers contribute a lien of about P8 per 50-kilo bag of sugar, whether sugar prices are profitable or not, for the approximately 700,000 farm and mill workers, the press release said.
The fund, which runs to hundreds of millions of pesos every year, gives direct cash bonus to workers, financing for socio-economic programs, like technical skills training, scholarships and livelihood projects for workers and their families, and maternity and death benefits, over and above those mandated by the government.
About five million Filipinos directly and indirectly depend on the sugar industry for their livelihood.
“The ARBs, farm and mill workers, and our families will starve, if the economic managers will push through with the sugar import liberalization. The economic dislocation will breed social unrest, reminiscent of the fiery insurgency during the 1980s, particularly here in Negros,” Lava claimed.
Instead of focusing on import liberalization, Lava said government should devise ways to help the farmers reduce their cost of production and increase their productivity, by introducing programs that will reduce the cost of fuel, fertilizer, and other farm inputs, and providing easier access to credit and equipment for mechanization, the press release added.*
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