Sugar industry stakeholders seek Duterte aid vs HFCS importation

SUGAR industry federations and multi-sectoral groups, who have joined forces in the fight against the importation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are seeking the assistance of President Rodrigo Duterte to curb such practice which they said is “killing the industry.”

Lawyer Archie Baribar, spokesperson of pro-Duterte group Kilusang Pagbabago-Negros Island Region (NIR), said they are in unity against an “economic sabotage” affecting millions of Filipinos, mostly in Negros, involved in the sugar industry.

The group, who manifested their solidarity to protect the sugar industry in a press conference at Mimi’s Restaurant Tuesday, will come up with a collective letter this week addressed to Duterte, which will be furnished to concerned government agencies.

Baribar said they will ask the President to direct the Sugar Regulatory Administration to immediately stop the importation of HFCS.

After stopping the importation, the group will push for its review and regulation in favor of the small sugar farmers, he added.

Also present at the press conference were National Federation of Sugar Planters (NFSP) president Enrique Rojas, Confederation of Sugar Producers (Confed) national president Francis de la Rama, United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (Unifed) president Manuel Lamata, and agrarian reform beneficiary Ranee Lava.

They were joined by Hernane Braza, representing the National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (Nacusip-TUCP), and Wennie Sancho, secretary general of the General Alliance Workers Associations (Gawa).

Opportunity losses

Rojas said 3,000 container vans of HFCS were imported to the country recently.

Of which, 1,000 were already released by the Bureau of Customs (BOC), and the remaining 2,000 container vans are under process.

All in all, this is equivalent to 300,000 metric tons of sugar, Rojas said.

“It will affect about 10 million people directly and indirectly involved in sugar industry,” he said, adding that its adverse impact will continue if no action will be done immediately.

Industry leaders presented a data obtained from the BOC showing that from 2011 to 2016, the country has imported a total of almost 766, 890 metric tons of HFCS.

This is equivalent to about 23 million metric tons of sugar worth about P35 billion.

The country posted the highest HFCS importation of 234,863 metric tons last year, equivalent to seven million metric tons of sugar amounting to almost P12.5 million, it added.

Lamata said that for crop year 2016 to 2017, the industry will incur about P25 billion in opportunity losses.

Of the figure, Negros will incur the highest, at 65 percent, he said.

“We cannot compete with the cheaper price of HFCS,” Lamata said, adding that aside from destroying the industry resulting to jobless Filipinos, “the use of HFCS also poses health risks.”

He cited several claims that consumption of the said sweetener causes obesity, and it has chemical components that trigger cancer.

De la Rama said: “In order to protect the industry, especially small planters, we should not allow HFCS to take the place of our sugar. This is the most important thing to do right now.”

Lava, representing the agrarian reform beneficiaries, said the increase in importation of HFCS that pulled down prices of local sugar has already been affecting small farmers in the province.

Small planters constitute 75 percent of the 90,000 sugar farmers in the country, comprising about 60,000 families, the group said.

They pointed out that unabated importation of HFCS has driven down sugar prices from P1,800 per 50-kilo bag in September to P1,500 per bag in December last year.

It is seen to drop to as low as P1,200 if nothing is done to stop or at least strictly regulate HFCS importation, they added.

Aside from looking at how local ordinances would be able to address the problem, they are also banking on the Negrense lawmakers to make the necessary move in Congress.

“This is a movement of all stakeholders in the sugar industry,” Baribar said, reiterating that their plan to stage massive actions stands if government remains “not concerned” on the issue.

He also said that the act of a beverage company threatening sugar leaders is an indication that the latter have hit a major artery in exposing the huge impact of HFCS importation.

“This is a national problem that would hit hard the island of Negros thus, it should be addressed on the national level,” Bariba said, adding that “we are glad that federations have expressed similar concerns.”

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