LABOR groups and unions in Negros Occidental have called on congressmen in the province not to be dumb, instead come out and speak up, against the proposed liberalization of sugar importation in the country.
They also urged Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to fulfill his promise to protect the sugar industry by, also, supporting the stakeholders especially small farm workers in their battle against the “deadly” policy.
Hernane Braza, national president of the Philippine Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Workers Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said there are several congressmen who have been helping local producers maintain and protect the prices of sugar.
But on the pressing import liberalization issue, Braza said they only heard two congressmen from the province who are vocal about their support to the sugar industry.
“We are appealing to other congressmen from the province to also reinforce their fellow representatives as well as support the position of the labor on non-importation of sugar,” he said, adding that Negrense lawmakers should not let the province to slump as this is where they get their votes.
“They should always remember that,” the labor leader stressed.
Braza and General Alliance Workers secretary general Wennie Sancho, who are both the labor representatives of the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity in Western Visayas, signed the “Karga-Tapas” manifesto expressing the sugar workers’ opposition against sugar import liberalization at Geocadin Building in Bacolod City on Monday, February 4.
They were joined by 12 other leaders and representatives of other labor unions and groups, mostly of sugar milling companies, as well as labor advocates in the province.
For Sancho, the deafening silence of most Negrense lawmakers disturbs the local labor sector.
“They should stand up and be counted in this trying times of the sugar industry,” Sancho said.
At the sidelines of the manifesto signing, the two labor leaders recalled that the agriculture chief during the previous summit of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) in Bacolod City has pledged to protect the sugar industry.
Braza said Piñol has to come up with a strong statement supporting the labor sector. Otherwise, if he does nothing to stop the sugar import liberalization, then he breached his promise.
“The sugar industry was able to recover from the challenges including the recent woes on high fructose corn syrup, also because of Secretary Piñol’s help,” he said, adding that “so, we will again appeal to him to be true to his words.”
Moreover, the “Karga-Tapas” manifesto stated that a huge fireball is about to descend from the sky and shall fall into the heart of the sugar land. This firestorm is the proposal of the government to liberalize the importation of sugar.
It said that it is unfortunate that the country’s economic managers sought a quick-fix solution to the sugar industry problem without considering the implications. It would be a fatal mistake for the government, in terms of policy direction and in the court of public opinion, to approve the scheme at the expense of economic well-being of the people.
“In opposing the deregulation of sugar imports, even our smallest action would be of immense significance,” the workers’ manifesto said, adding that “we should never allow this monster called sugar import liberalization to breach and destroy the fortification of our sugar industry.”
The labor groups, in the manifesto, further said “we should scrap the proposal to liberalize sugar importation. Emancipation in times of great economic crisis usually comes from those who had suffered most. We shall find the strength and motivation to stop this deregulation which shall be a source of our sufferings and discontentment.”
The signed copies of the “Karga-Tapas” manifesto will be furnished to SRA Chief Hermenigildo Serafica, Board Members Emilio Yulo III, and Roland Beltran representing the planters and millers, respectively.
The labor groups hope that this “expression of opposition” will be presented by the SRA during the Sugar Summit in Manila next week.
Congress of Independent Organizations-National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines national director Jun dela Cruz, who also signed the manifesto, said the price of P1,560 per 50-kilogram bag of sugar during their recent bidding will surely drop once the import liberalization pushes through.
Dela Cruz said the administration's economic managers could have conducted first dialogues with stakeholders in Negros Occidental for them to know the extent of possible damage the measure can bring to the farmers and workers.
Other groups and affiliates who signed the manifesto included labor unions of Sagay Central Inc., Universal Robina Corp., Riverside Medical Center, Southern Negros Development Corp., and Hawaiian Philippine Company, among others.
Most of them have expressed apprehensions and fear that the possible drop in prices of sugar due to open-market importation will greatly hurt small sugar planters and workers as well as employees of centrals that are dependent on sugar production.
Due to collective bargaining agreements, labor unions said they can no longer negotiate with the management for “right” benefits if prices of sugar are low.
“Why should the government import sugar where in fact we cannot fully utilize our own products. This must be a misconception by the government,” Braza said.
Moreover, citing the statement of National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Ernesto Pernia that sugar liberalization “is worth a try but a tough battle,” the labor sector believed that the casualties in such battle would be the workers.
This is the problem. The collateral damage would be their families, Sancho said.
Amid claims that the proposed sugar import deregulation is a “collegial decision” and seemed to be a “done deal” already, Sancho added they remain optimistic that it won't push through due to the vehement opposition of the sugar industry workers.