‘Otso Diretso’ bets buck sugar industry liberalization

BACOLOD. Some of the senatorial bets of opposition's “Otso Diretso” hold a dialogue with representatives of different sectors in Bacolod City on Friday, February 22. (Teresa Ellera)

SUGAR industry stakeholders have found another allies in their fight against the proposed sugar import liberalization.

This after some of the opposition's senatorial bets belonging to “Otso Diretso” assured them of their support and commitment to oppose the measure to deregulate sugar imporation.

Some of “Otso Diretso” bets were in Bacolod City on Friday, February 22, for a dialogue with various sector representatives at Timeout Restaurant.

Former Quezon Fourth District Representative Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III said they are against the move of the government removing restrictions on entry imported products like rice and sugar.

“We will fight for the welfare of our sugar farmers. Such move to liberalize the sugar industry would give more hardships to our ‘sakadas’ and their respective families,” Tañada said, adding that “this issue is close to our hearts.”

Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano, a Negrense, said he condemns the proposed measure as it will make the country dependent on imported products.

“We must rely in our products especially rice and sugar. This move of the government would only destroy our food security,” the congressman said.

Alejano recalled the days of Batang Negros where children were thin and hungry. He would not want Negrenses to experience it again, he said.

If the sugar industry would be liberalized, many families would lose their jobs and local food security will suffer, Alejano added.

Well-known Negrense chef Margarita Fores, who represented his cousin former Senator Mar Roxas, echoed the latter’s stand that importation is not a solution to the problem on high prices of sugar and rice.

“Here in Negros, our yield has already increased by 20 percent in terms of rice and sugar production because of the new technologies and practices. Instead of importation, Mar said that government should give support to our farmers to improve their production and become more competitive,” she said.

Citing its detrimental effects to the sugar industry, sugar industry stakeholders in the country including block farms, agrarian reform beneficiaries and workers, planters federation and associations, sugar millers, refiners, bioethanol producers, and bagasse-based power generators have already adopted a resolution expressing their collective stand against the proposed liberalization or deregulation of sugar importation during the Sugar Industry Stakeholders' Summit in Quezon City earlier this month.

The labor sector, however, expressed dismay on the result of the summit and doubted that President Rodrigo Duterte will listen to the sentiments of the stakeholders.

It can be recalled that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, at the sidelines of the summit, said he cannot convince the economic managers. Instead, they will just relay the sentiments of the stakeholders to Duterte.

For the labor, 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.

“Given such result and gesture of Piñol, it seems that sugar import liberalization will really push through,” they added.

Aside from two manifestos of the labor sector, the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental also earlier 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.

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.

For the House of Representative, meanwhile, the Visayan Bloc also expressed support to the sugar industry.

On February 6, Bacolod City Representative Greg Gasataya manifested his opposition on the proposed sugar liberalization during a privilege speech.


Meanwhile, various sector representatives in the province who are volunteers of “Otso Diretso” in Negros Occidental signed a manifesto of support to push for local development agenda.

The move is seen to effectively address major development challenges presently faced by the province and the country as well.

The signing of manifesto was also done on Friday at the sidelines of campaign sorties of “Otso Diretso” in the province.

The manifesto stated that the development challenges call for a determined and well-studied legislative agenda.

Representatives of various sectors have asked the senatorial candidates of Liberal Party to adopt and pursue this by way of legislation and advocacy.

The major concerns which the sector-representatives are asking for support include the re-creation of Negros Island Region, which they consider as an initiative undertaken to unite the two Negros provinces under one separate region but unfortunately aborted due to executive fiat.

Thus, it needs to be restudied with the end view of finding ways to institutionalize the one-island region, the manifesto said.

They would also like to put focus on pro-agriculture and fisheries agenda that includes the recently passed Rice Tariffication Act and proposed sugar import deregulation.

The sectors see a need to have pro-consumer government policy framework amid recent and impending events threatening Filipino farmers and fisherfolks.

The manifesto also underscored the need for better government support, lower input and transport costs, and more favorable business environments.

It also cited charter change and federalism as among the issues that need to be given focus by the would-be senators.

Other concerns they would like to be carried out by the senatorial bets are the tax reform law, independent and sovereign Philippines, the culture of killings and violence, and human rights violations, and attacks to the church and its leaders by the government, among others.

Other “Otso Diretso” candidates who were in the province were lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, and Florin Hilbay.

Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, meanwhile, was represented by his wife Timmy.


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