THE Senate speaks.
In the bid to safeguard the economy and welfare of sugar farmers and workers in 28 provinces in the country including Negros Occidental, the Senate on Wednesday, February 6, passed a resolution urging the Executive Department of the government not to pursue the plan to liberalize sugar industry.
Introduced and adopted by 10 lawmakers namely Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri, the resolution said the proposed measure created a stir and fear among the sugar industry stakeholders.
The resolution cited reports that economic managers proposed the sugar import liberalization due to high prices of local sugar against those in the world market and that the same affects the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for exports.
It can be recalled that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said there is a need to “relax” the rules on importation that puts pressure on the domestic economy to compete with the rest of the world.
Sugar in the Philippines, he said, is very expensive compared with global prices so they plan to deregulate the industry probably this year.
For the senators, however, the deregulation measure will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export because it is already a policy of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to allow food exporters to openly import sugar without value-added tax or customs duties provided that the end product is exported and not sold locally.
“The deregulated entry of subsidized sugar in the Philippine market will be disastrous to our sugar industry which contributes about P96 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product,” the resolution stated.
The proponent-senators, in the said resolution, claimed that the sugar industry comprises some 84,000 farmers, mostly small ones and agrarian reform beneficiaries, and 720,000 industry workers directly affecting almost a million families or five million individuals.
Aside from Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, the sugar farmers and farm workers are scattered across 26 other provinces such as Cagayan Valley, Isabela, Kalinga, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Leyte, Cebu, Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Sarangani Province, North and South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and parts of Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, Cavite, Quezon Province, and Lanao del Sur.
“If the sugar industry will collapse as a result of the liberalization, poverty incidence in these provinces will increase and they will become the hotbed of insurgency and criminality,” the resolution said.
Moreover, the Senate pointed out that the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) that was enacted into law in 2015 adopts as the policy of the state “to promote the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and maximize the utilization of sugarcane resources.”
The resolution stressed that Sida law is barely four years in effect and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized thus, any plan of liberalizing it becomes irrelevant and very untimely.
It said the proposed measure will contradict President Rodrigo Duterte’s thrust towards food security and will severely affect the entire agriculture sector.
“The SRA shall continue to regulate the supply of sugar pursuant to its mandate under Executive Order No. 18 Series of 1986 and in compliance with the President’s Administrative Order No. 13 Series of 2018 as the sugar industry will tragically affect a lot of farmers and workers all over the country,” it added.
Glimmer of hope
As this developed, SRA Board Member Emilio Yulo III, representing the planters, said they are thankful that the senators closed ranks with them.
Yulo said this shows that the senators understand the plight of the sugar industry and its stakeholders.
“We know that the battle is far from over but this Senate Resolution gives us a glimmer of hope that not all is lost,” he said, adding that “the Senate has always been our ally when it comes to protecting the industry because they've seen how our farmers toil the fields to surpass the challenges hounding the industry in the past couple of years.”
The SRA official further said they hope that like the senators, the economic managers will also visit the fields so they can empathize with the small farmers.
This is something which they will never get to do within the confines of their air-conditioned offices, Yulo noted.
‘Senators are right’
The Confederation of Sugar Producers (Confed) has welcomed the development, pointing out that the senators are right in stressing that the planned liberalization of the economic managers can lead to the demise of the sugar industry.
Confed spokesperson Raymond Montinola, in a statement, said the lawmakers also righteously pointed out that the measure can result in a tumultuous peace and order situation which the people don’t want to live again.
Montinola said the senators who pushed for the resolution have been with the industry in the last three years from the time of the fight against the entry of high fructose corn syrup to the sugar taxation.
“Again, we are facing the threat of liberalization. That is also why we should always remember who our allies are and who has our backs,” he said, adding that “still, we are not letting our guards down."
Montinola further said, “we will continue to be vigilant and seek the intervention of our President to ensure that the plans of the economic managers will never be implemented.”
For the labor sector in the province, this development is a morale booster for all workers and advocates of the sugar industry.
Wennie Sancho, secretary-general of General Alliance of Workers Associations, said they are encouraging all stakeholders to rally behind the Senate Resolution.
Sancho, also the convenor of Save the Sugar Industry Movement, said National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez should stop any and all moves to push for sugar import liberalization.
“They should respect the resolution which is a manifestation of the sentiments of our legislators,” he added. (EPN)