Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri is intensifying the campaign against the entry of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the country.
On April 10, the Senate agriculture committee, headed by Senator Cynthia Villar, will conduct a hearing to shed light on the matter. All sugar industry stakeholders are expected to attend the inquiry.
As this developed, some members of the five federations of sugar workers in Negros Occidental, representing 24,000 sugar farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries, submitted their respective position papers on HFCS importation to Zubiri in a brief meeting at SM City Bacolod Thursday.
Zubiri, who has roots in Negros Occidental, said the position papers will be forwarded to the Senate agriculture committee.
“We will put all position papers in Senate records. It will help us formulate the committee report that will strongly recommend our position to the Executive (branch),” he said.
The inquiry on the importation of HFCS will have an effect on the policy of the administration, he said, adding that the Senate is the main policy-making body of the government.
“A resolution from the Senate supporting the local farmers will have a big impact on the Executive’s policy when dealing with HFCS,” he added.
Moreover, Zubiri said he is appealing to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to attend the hearing “so he could inform me the right information because he said I was misinformed (on the HFCS issue).”
Piñol and Zubiri earlier trade barbs after the former said that the sugar order regulating the HFCS importation should be held in abeyance pending consultations with the beverage firms.
Piñol also blamed the previous administration for allowing the unabated entry of HFCS in the country, adding that the sugarcane plantation owners in Negros Occidental had actually supported the presidential candidate of former president Benigno Aquino III, Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II.
Zubiri, on the other hand, slammed the Agriculture Secretary, adding that he should stop “politicizing” the HFCS issue.
The senator stressed it was President Rodrigo Duterte who directed Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Anna Rosario Paner to issue the sugar order regulating the HFCS entry.
“Probably he (Piñol) did not get the memo from the President or the information that the President himself instructed SRA to support the local farmers,” Zubiri said.
The senator said that Piñol should step up in protecting the welfare of the farmers and the industry.
He said that small farmers will suffer especially if there’s a drop in sugar prices.
‘Thresh out misinformation’
On the Senate hearing, Zubiri will make a presentation on the importance of protecting the sugar industry that employs five million direct and indirect workers.
He will also present to the committee the cost of sugar production in Thailand compared to the Philippines.
“I will show to the body how difficult to produce sugar in the country compared to others that have subsidy from their respective governments,” he said.
The senator said: “We can’t abandon the five million Filipinos who are directly and indirectly affected by dangerous and cancer-causing HFCS.”
He added the inquiry will “thresh out all the misinformation” and will “set the tone” for future importation of HFCS and other sweetener.
Asked if he is one with the Negrenses who are calling to boycott Coke, he said: “I’m not drinking Coke products anymore, just fresh buko juice so we could help our coconut farmers.”
Last week, about 6,000 Negrenses trooped to the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Bacolod City to call on the public to boycott the beverage giant.
Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines has a pending injunction case before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. They are seeking to nullify SRA’s sugar order regulating the importation of HFCS.
The provincial government had already banned the sponsorship and sale of Coke products in the annual “Panaad sa Negros Festival” next month.
Some of the restaurants and establishments in the city have also stopped serving beverage products using HFCS.
Meanwhile, Hinigaran Mayor Jose Nadie Arceo said his town will ban the sale of Coke products on its “Hinugyaw sa Hinigaran Festival” this April.