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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, January 30, 2019
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Sugar woes

Rock & Refuge

If there is one thing that can unify our province – the government, the sugar producers, farmers, workers, and even the activists standing together in one corner – it’s when the sugar industry is under threat.

And this time, the threat is even bigger than the HFCS issue because we will be opening our gates to unabated entry of imported sugar as being pursued by the economic managers.

It was Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno who first announced that sugar will follow the way of chicken and rice, promising that this will lower the retail price of sugar.

But we all know it’s not with certainty because just a couple of weeks ago, Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol even warned of a possible over supply in the market which at the moment has about 18 million kilos of local chicken and another 16 million of imported chicken in storage.

With too much supply, this will lead to a lowering of prices and while the big players can withstand some losses, the small players will eventually have to close shop.

And this is exactly how the sugar industry will play out if Diokno and the other economic managers will get their way. First to fall will be the small farmers and the agrarian reform beneficiaries who continue to make ends meet even when sugar prices are supposed to be at a comfortable level.

We have to admit that imported sugar is cheaper than our domestic sugar but what these economic managers are not telling the public is that these are surplus sugar from neighboring countries where producing the same is being subsidized by their own government.

How can we ever compete with the foreign market when from farm inputs to mechanization to marketing or in short from inception to the shelf, sugar producers and millers have full support from their government.

This is also the reason why the first to come out and criticize the move were the ARBs, knowing full well that the axe will fall on them first.

This is also why our provincial government is calling on everyone to unite in the face of this threat as this can be very disastrous, not only to the sugar industry, but to our own local economy that remains quite dependent on the industry.

Not to mention the billions of investments that have been poured to ensure our competitiveness and find other means of using sugar, not only for food but also for fuel and power.

These will all go to naught if this will not be stopped and it is not unlikely to see the return of the 80’s when hunger was widespread, when Joel Abong became the face of Batang Negros.

Diokno recently went silent after he was criticized left and right for his pronouncements. But it didn’t take long for them to find a replacement in the person of NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia who announced that they may allow private users to directly import sugar to cut its costs and bring down domestic retail prices.

In doing so, they will take the function of giving license to importers from the Sugar Regulatory Administration. It’s plain and simple saying, we may not have any more use for SRA soon if their plans will push through.

That this statement will come from the head of an agency that is responsible for the country’s economic development and planning makes me wonder what their blueprint is on how this country will move forward – become a dumping ground of surplus goods from other countries?

The Philippines is supposed to be an agricultural country. But what these economic managers are doing is actually to kill the industries that millions of people in the countryside are dependent upon at the behest of a few food and beverage industries that are spending millions in lobby money so they can rake in more profit.

Gov. Freddie Marañon was on point in telling these cabinet members to get out from the confines of their offices and go to the fields, talk to the farmers, and see them in a different lens without the dollar sign. Perhaps then they will get to appreciate what our land has to offer, what our farmers have been sweating for, what this country stands for.

It is time to rise again. Time to let them see that there is another side to Negros – and it ain’t all sweet when there’s a bitter pill to swallow.*

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