Negros and the Asean Free Trade Agreement-A A +A
By Ver Pacete
As I See It
Thursday, October 25, 2012
THE sugar industry major players are the sugarcane field workers, the sugar mill artisans, the hacienderos, the mill partners and the traders. The bigger challenge in the industry is yet to come.
Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño said that the implementation of zero tariffs on imported sugar under the Asean Free Trade Agreement in 2015 is a threat to the sugar industry. He said it emphatically and the big players understood that it is not funny to think about it and the sequence could be apocalyptic. It could be an anticipated deluge and like Noah, our government, landowners, mill tycoons and the sugar cartel should find practical means to cushion the impact.
Negros Occidental has a monocrop industry. We are dependent on sugarcane, the lazy man’s grass. If the industry bleeds, we are all suffocated. In 2015, cheap imported sugar from Australia and Thailand will flood into our market. Filipinos love to buy cheap imported products. Our concern is on how to effectively prepare for a bigger and wider “tiempomuerto.”
Hacienda owners should now start to strengthen community organizations. Planters and workers should have the same level of socio-cultural awareness. Leadership should not be provided alone by the planters. Leaders from the rank of the workers should also be identified.
Hacienda organization should form cooperatives for rice consumption, small business, poultry, swine fattening, goat-raising, educational loan, scholarship program and proper linkage with SIFI, SIMAG Foundation, government social service programs, church-based foundations and even funding from foreign countries. Yes, this is easier said than done but we have no choice. We have to work hard for this. Every hacienda owner should be a social worker for his people.
If it is not that hard, hacienda owners should provide a backyard garden for the workers or attempt to follow the kibutz of Israel (group farming). Could this be done? Yes! We did it in 1970 up to 1990 with BINHI-Chito Foundation. We piloted the program on human growth and development in Hda. Tagbanon, Cadiz City; Hda.Adela and Hda.Luguay in Silay City; Hda.Catalina, Talisay City; Hda.Candiis, Sagay City and we have satellites in other haciendas. The Marañons and Sarrosas in Sagay were participants. That was a group work with top leaders like Ed Locsin, Sr. Michelle Gamboa, NacingJavellana, Baby Lacson, Sonia Sarrosa, Ramon Consing, Msgr. Jose Silverio with the assistance of bit players and volunteer workers like us.
Our group was able to tap the existing programs of the government, parish church, and of the private sector (CEDA, PBSP, NEDF, etc.). First, we created a strong advocacy and involved members who went through proper training and series of seminar-workshop. Partnership between laborers and planters developed trust and confidence. Hacienda workers were happy to live in a community where the president was a co-worker and not a sugarcane planter. Community concerns were taken up in a collective meeting and decisions were made by the members. The haciendero supported the projects initiated by the community through the cooperatives. Bonding was sustained by liturgical services, community, cultural and sports programs.
The organized groups were excited to show their products during the Inter-Hacienda Bazaars. The farm owners provided a market by inviting the rich and the famous to buy products and see the cultural show of the enlightened sugarcane workers. That was just a small scale attempt but it proved what empowerment of the workers means. If Chito Foundation–BINHI did it with flying colors, the government and the big players in the industry can double the effort, work seriously, and target excellent result.
Now, who is afraid of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement? Fear fears the fearless.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 25, 2012.