Coke withdraws bid to nullify sugar order on HFCS

QUEZON CITY – Beverage giant Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines withdrew its bid to nullify the sugar order regulating the importation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an alternative sweetener.

This came five days after the Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization filed an outright smuggling complaint against Coke when it allegedly imported HFCS after the March 10 effectivity of the sugar order without a clearance from Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

During the hearing of the House of Representatives committee on food and agriculture Tuesday, May 16, lawyer Marc Cox of Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines announced that the beverage firm will not pursue the case that is questioning the constitutionality of the sugar order issued by SRA on February 24.

“In the spirit of cooperation, and to continue working a sustainable partnership with the sugar industry, Coca-Cola has given instruction to move for the withdrawal of the March 3 petition on the sugar order filed with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City Branch 98," he said.

Cox said the motion was filed Tuesday afternoon while a copy of it was forwarded to the SRA.

“We firmly believe that this positive development will lead to a further cordial relationship among concerned stakeholders and regulators as the objective is to find a win-win solution,” he added.

The court had earlier denied the petition of the beverage firm for the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the sugar order. It also junked Coke’s motion for reconsideration.

Cox assured the legislators that they will support any proposed legislation in the House as what they did in the Senate.

In the Senate hearing conducted on April 18, Coke officials together with the sugar leaders and various stakeholders were told to compromise to reach a “win-win solution.”

Cox said the Senate inquiry led by Senators Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri prompted both parties "to find mutually acceptable solutions" in the importation of HFCS and consumption of local sugar.

He said the beverage company is also supporting the proposed creation of sugar council, which was taken up in the Senate hearing.

On the outright smuggling complaint filed before the Bureau of Customs, Cox said they don’t have the official copy, or haven’t been served with the pleading yet.

“Our sources of information were through the news reports. I want to defer any comment," he added.

‘Partial victory’

Emilio Yulo III, spokesperson of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines, said the move of Coke is a “partial victory” for the sugar industry.

“There is no threat to the constitutionality of the sugar order,” he added.

“We expect nothing else from Coke, but to follow. As long as there is sugar order, the industry will be protected. SRA is the gatekeeper,” Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental said.
For Bacolod City Representative Greg Gasataya, Coke’s withdrawal of the injunction case is a significant development for the sugar industry.

“This is a great achievement,” he said, adding that it’s a step to intensify the strong implementation of the sugar order.

Excise tax

As the sugar leaders defended the industry from the importation of HFCS, House committee members expressed support to the sugar industry during the hearing.

A house bill increasing the excise tax on HFCS will be filed Wednesday, May 17, by Sultan Kudarat Second District Horacio Suansing Jr.

Suansing, who was born in Bacolod City, said the proposal will be a “remedy to the excessive importation of HFCS to protect the sugar producers and industry.”

Citing the bill, he said that all imported HFCS products will be levied with excise tax upon entry.

He is proposing that 20 percent of the fund will go to Sugarcane Industry Development Act while the 80 percent will go to the national government’s General Fund.

Suansing said the proposed measure “will protect the industry and generate revenues.”

Abang-Lingkod party-list Representative Stephen Paduano said the House committee on ways and means will have a caucus on the proposed tax reform package, which was certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Part of the package was the proposed excise tax on HFCS and other sweetened beverages.

Meanwhile, labor leaders said during the hearing that more than 700,000 marginalized workers and farmers will be affected by the continuing drop in sugar prices.

After the hearing, resource persons were told to submit their respective position papers.

Also present during the hearing were Negros Occidental Representatives Melecio Yap Jr. of First District, Leo Rafael Cueva of Second District, Alejandro Mirasol of Fifth District, and Mercedes Alvarez of Sixth District.
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