EXPRESSING dismay on the result of the recent Sugar Industry Stakeholders’ Summit, the labor sector in Negros Occidental doubts that President Rodrigo Duterte will listen to the sentiments of the stakeholders.
Wennie Sancho, convenor of Save the Sugar Industry Movement, on Wednesday, February 13, said the two-day summit held at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management in Quezon City is an exercise in futility.
Sancho, who attended the summit, said they are dismayed as the voice of the workers and agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) were not amplified. In fact, their manifestos were not even read, he said.
It can be recalled that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, at the sidelines of the summit, told reporters that he cannot convince the economic managers. Instead, they will just relay the sentiments of the stakeholders to Duterte.
“Given such statement from Piñol, we feel that the President would listen more to the economic managers rather than to the stakeholders,” he said, adding that “the agriculture secretary has no enough courage to represent the sugar industry stakeholders to the Cabinet.”
Citing its detrimental effects to the sugar industry, the stakeholders including block farms, ARBs and workers, planters federation and associations, sugar millers, refiners, bioethanol producers, and bagasse-based power generators in the country adopted a resolution expressing their collective stand against the proposed liberalization or deregulation of sugar importation.
As he echoed the position of the stakeholders, Piñol said they remain neutral on the issue as the agency is part of the administration. Though, he said, “the President always listen.”
This, however, has not satisfied the labor sector.
Sancho, also the secretary-general of General Alliance of Workers Association, said it seems that Piñol is not protecting the industry which he manifested during the 1st Philippine Sugarcane Farm Mechanization Expo in Bacolod City last year.
Sancho said that being close to the President, the agriculture chief should supposed to have a sphere of influence to convince the economic managers. But it only shows that the extent of his influence rather is limited.
“The summit was more of an exercise in futility because it did not serve the purpose of defending the interest of the stakeholders of the sugar industry,” he stressed, adding that given such result and gesture of Piñol “it seems that sugar import liberalization will really push through.”
It can be recalled that the oppositions stemmed from the pronouncement of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno that there is a need to “relax” the rules on sugar 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 labor sector, however, such proposal has failed to consider the sentiments of the stakeholders especially farmers and workers who will greatly suffer if the sugar industry collapses.
Aside from two manifestos of the labor sector, the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental also passed a resolution opposing the proposed import scheme for sugar.
Even the Senate has backed such opposition by passing a resolution last week calling on the Executive Department to abort such an “untimely and irrelevant” measure in order to safeguard the economy and welfare of sugar farmers and workers in 28 provinces in the country including Negros Occidental.
For the House of Representative, meanwhile, the Visayan Bloc has yet to come out with an official stand against the proposed sugar liberalization.
On February 6, Bacolod City Representative Greg Gasataya manifested his opposition on the proposed sugar liberalization during a privilege speech.
Amid all these opposition-moves, the local labor sector said there is a need to brace for the incoming storm.
“While we are hoping for the best, we should prepare for the worst,” Sancho said, adding that once the rice tariffication bill becomes a law, it signals that the sugar will be next.
“When the decision of the economic managers becomes destructive for the sugar industry, it is the right of the farmer-workers to oppose and resist that decision in order to create new guards for their future economic security,” he added.