THE agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) Sugar Farmers Federation-Kilusang Pagbabago joined the National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (Nacusip) and allied groups in its one million signature campaign against the proposed sugar import liberalization.
Federation chairman Aaron Sorbito and Congress of Independent Organizations president Benjie dela Cruz representing Nacusip conducted the ceremonial signing on Tuesday, February 26.
This is to signify their unity for the campaign launched in Bacolod City by Nacusip led by its president Roland de la Cruz along with representatives of allied groups on February 23.
The group also came up with an open letter urging President Rodrigo Duterte to abandon the plan of deregulating sugar importation, claiming that it will displace the demand for domestic sugar and will cause the collapse of the sugar industry.
De la Cruz, in a press statement, said “we welcome the support of the ARBs Sugar Farmers Federation-Kilusang Pagbabago and its thousands of members all over Negros.”
“We greatly appreciate their assistance in working for our common cause,” he said, adding that they are discussing ways to make it easier for the public to participate in the signature campaign.
For his part, Sorbito said joining ranks with Nacusip is just the initial salvo of the series of actions which ARBs and industry workers are launching in the coming weeks.
“Our group recently called for a broad alliance of ARBs, industry workers and cause-oriented groups to fight sugar liberalization and to demand support for farmers. We are glad that Nacusip and its allied groups have responded to our call,” Sorbito said.
Initial talks had also been conducted and pledges of cooperation were already delivered by other organizations, as well as cause-oriented groups of various leanings, to coalesce under a single umbrella in fight against liberalization, he added.
“Our ARB federation and Nacusip will very soon hold a unification and consolidation meeting with other leaders from the farmers and workers sectors. This broad coalition is already taking shape,” he further said.
Moreover, the federation’s goal is to show the government the faces of farmers, workers, mothers and children who will go hungry if the economic managers liberalize sugar importation.
“The only way we can make the President listen to us is to gather our warm bodies together and present our concerns,” he emphasized, expressing hope that other industry stakeholders will also support their move.
‘Not the solution’
In a related development, former senator Mar Roxas slammed the plan to liberalize sugar importation.
Roxas, in a press statement on Tuesday, said the move will destroy the livelihood of almost a million farmers and industry workers, and will adversely affect more than half a million Filipinos dependent on the sugar industry.
Roxas, who has roots in Negros Occidental, issued the statement after the rice tarification bill was signed into law last February 15.
Sugar liberalization is being aggressively pursued as next in the government’s agenda, the press statement said.
“The economic managers recommend the importation of rice, fish and, now, sugar. Direct open importation is not the solution, because it will further impoverish our already poor farmers,” Roxas said.
Before considering importation, Roxas said that government should first do everything to help the farmers.
“The Filipino farmers should be the ones to feed the Filipinos. The money which Filipinos spend on their food should go to their fellow Filipinos, so that the money will circulate within the country and benefit our fellow Filipinos,” he pointed out.
Roxas, who is running for senator, stressed that importation should be considered only as a last resort, when estimates of local production clearly show a shortfall compared to domestic demand.
“Importation should be resorted only during exceptional instances, such as when there is an expected drop in production and we need to import to fill the supply-demand gap. As a matter of national policy, importation should not be the first nor preferential option,” he added.
Based on his research, Roxas said the national average rice production is four tons of palay per hectare, but other areas produce six to eight tons per hectare.
“Some of our farmers can increase their production by 50 to 100 percent above the national average, given the same farm area. This means that, with the right national policies and support programs from the Department of Agriculture, our farmers have the potential to feed all of us,” Roxas said.
“We should help our farmers improve their yields so that they can produce enough and even more for our needs,” he added.
Like other local officials, former Fourth District Representative Jeffrey Ferrer is also opposing the move to liberalize sugar importation in the country.
“I am against it. I have been asking support for the industry from the senatorial candidates and so far no one has declined my request,” he said on Tuesday.
Ferrer, the presumptive vice governor of Negros Occidental, said he has already met with some of the sugar industry leaders in the country and that he believes that although the national government will have the final say about the issue, local initiatives and lobbying are also crucial.
Ferrer pointed out that there is already a Technical Working Group in the national level handling the issue on the proposed sugar liberalization.
“We have to save the sugar industry because it has been the main industry in the province ever since,” Ferrer pointed out.
Citing its detrimental effects to the sugar industry, sugar industry stakeholders in the country including block farms, ARBs 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.
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.
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.