Group seeks coalition vs sugar import deregulation

THE Negros-based Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) Sugar Farmers Federation – Kilusang Pagbabago has called on for a broad coalition of agrarian farmers, sugar industry workers, and cause-oriented groups to oppose sugar import liberalization.

The group’s chairman Aaron Sorbito, in a press statement, said on Sunday, February 17, the Rice Tariffication Act is a clear signal that the government is deadly serious on liberalizing importation of agricultural products.

“Sugar is next, as openly declared by the country’s economic managers,” he said.

Sorbito said while the sugar industry stakeholders have already registered its collective opposition to the proposed sugar import liberalization by passing a unanimous resolution during the sugar summit last week, the industry cannot afford to be complacent.

“As the Rice Tariffication Act has demonstrated, the presentation of a resolution or position paper to President Rodrigo Duterte did not stop the passage of the law. We need to do more than that,” he said, adding that this was the sentiment of the federation members during their meeting over the weekend.

The group stressed that if sugar imports are deregulated, ARBs, industry workers and their families will be the first to lose their livelihood.

There is a need to show the government the faces of farmers, workers, mothers and children who will go hungry, if the economic managers liberalize sugar imports, it said.

Sorbito called on all ARB federations, workers associations, and allied organizations to unite and demand from government to abandon plans for sugar import deregulation, and to implement concrete programs to help farmers reduce production cost and increase yields.

“The only way we can make President Duterte listen to us is to gather our warm bodies together and present our concerns,” he added.

The government, Sorbito said, should be asked to devise programs to help the farmers through providing free or cheaper fertilizer and other farm inputs.

Other interventions include easier access to production financing, tractors and other equipment for farm mechanization, and fuel subsidies similar to the Pantawid Pasada Program given to the transport sector or tax exemption for fuel used for agricultural production, among others.

The group believes that if ARBs can reduce their production cost and increase their yields, they can produce cheaper sugar and other by-products.

This will benefit not only the sugar farmers and consumers, but also the government, because it will generate higher taxes and revenues from the sugar industry, it said.

“We cannot depend on the Department of Agriculture and Sugar Regulatory Administration on this fight, because they are part of government and they have to toe the line. We can depend only on ourselves,” Sorbito said.

There is a need for industry stakeholders to work together for the common goal of stopping import deregulation, he emphasized.

Moreover, the Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SSIM) said the die is cast with the signing of the Rice Tariffication Bill into law.

Wennie Sancho, convenor of SSIM, said on Sunday, “we are anticipating that what we had dreaded most might happen-- the implementation of the sugar import liberalization policy.”

Sancho said if the marches of events would lead in favor of the sugar import liberalization, there will be a social and economic crisis particularly in the sugar producing provinces especially Negros Occidental which produces more than 50 percent of the national production.

“Can the workers in the sugar industry alter the forthcoming event to defend their economic survival? Do we have any option? Are we compelled to abide with this unjust policy at the expense of the death of the sugar industry,” he asked.

Sancho, also the secretary general of General Alliance of Workers Association (Gawa), further said the workers should raise their voice of discontentment, woes and lamentations.

“We are about witness the unceremonial burial of the sugar industry,” he added. (with reports from EPN/CNC)


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