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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, January 30, 2019
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Diokno: Liberalization
to benefit more people
He does not understand sugar industry: planters


Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno does not have a comprehensive view of the sugarcane industry.

That was the reaction of sugar leaders to Diokno’s statement yesterday that while the planned liberalization of sugar imports would negatively affect local producers, this would benefit a greater number of consumers.

“There are more consumers than sugar producers,” Diokno was reported as saying by the Philippine News Agency yesterday.

Diokno had said that sugar is next on the government’s list of agricultural products that will see a relaxation in import restrictions, that has raised an outcry from sugar industry stakeholders.

“That is a very unfortunate statement coming from one who has not experienced the privilege of poverty. How do we balance the interest between the consumers/importers and producers? What is the policy of the state in respect to alleviating poverty? Kill the sugar industry and deprived the small farmers of their livelihood?” Sugar Board member Roland Beltran asked.

“Apparently, Secretary Diokno does not have a comprehensive view of the sugarcane industry,” Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, said yesterday.

In any industry, the consumers outnumber the producers, Rojas said. However, killing the industry is not the right approach in solving the problem of high retail prices, even at times when millgate prices are low, he pointed out.

“Diokno equates sugar with rice in the hierarchy of a family's basic needs. This is erroneous because, while a family of four consumes about 10 kilos of rice a week, the same family consumes less than a kilo of sugar in a week,” Rojas said.

Rice is a staple food that eats up a large portion of a family's income, while the cost of sugar is only a small fraction of the family's budget, he pointed out.

“We are not talking here only about the welfare of consumers and producers. The government economic managers should realize that what is at stake here are the livelihood of five million Filipinos and hundreds of billions invested in 27 sugar mills, 13 refineries, 11 bioethanol distilleries and 8 biomass power generating plants,” Rojas said.

Nicholas Ledesma, president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations’ Negros-Panay chapter, said “more consumers than sugar producers” is largely debatable, since consumption of sugar is minimal, it is not considered a prime commodity or necessity like rice.

And consumption is very low unlike rice, he added.

“Dependence on the sugar industry, on the other hand, whether directly or indirectly involves millions. The small planters with 3-5 hectares will suffer, most especially ARBs,” Ledesma said.

Are the consumers the ones Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno is referring to, or the exporters? Sugar Board Member Emilio Yulo III asked.

“Liberalization will kill Philippine agriculture,” Yulo pointed out.

Food processing exporters have been lobbying for open importation due to the high cost of retail sugar in the market, he pointed out earlier.

Members of the Sugar Board and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol are set to meet today. Yulo said he will raise the concern over Diokno’s plan to liberalize sugar importation with Piñol.*


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