IN A bid to have a more collective and stronger force against the sugar import liberalization plan of the government, the labor sector in Negros Occidental will launch the Sugar Watch Philippines on May 1, Labor Day.
Wennie Sancho, convenor of Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SSIM), said they are expanding their recently-organized group nationwide.
On March 6, the local labor sector formed the Rice and Sugar Watch (RSW)-Negros in a Unity Forum held at Gerald's Restobar in Bacolod City.
RSW-Negros is initially composed of about 20 organizations, mainly sugar and rice cooperatives and labor unions, serving as ad hoc council of leaders.
Sancho, who is the head of RSW-Negros, said the nationwide movement will focus on opposing and resisting the government's plan to deregulate sugar importation.
"We hope for a more effective movement if we are national in scope," he said, adding: "We can deal with sugar import liberalization in a more comprehensive manner."
Oppositions stemmed from the pronouncement of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno that 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.
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 in February this year.
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," the group said.
Aside from two opposition 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.
The resolution introduced and adopted by 10 senators said the proposed measure created a stir and fear among the sugar industry stakeholders.
Seemingly, the issue on sugar import liberalization was overtaken by that of the recently implemented rice tariffication.
But for labor groups, the Rice Tariffication Law signals that sugar will be the next.
In fact, Sancho said they received allegations from some stakeholders that the government will push through the implementation of sugar import liberalization after the midterm elections in May.
Sancho said the fear remains as the attempt is still there. Thus, they should not be complacent.
"This is one of the main issues that we will raise during the celebration of Labor Day," he said, adding that Sugar Watch Philippines will have a more calibrated approach.
In terms of membership, Sancho said some of their member-organizations already have counterparts in other provinces in the country.
Sugar Watch Philippines will be composed mainly of sugar workers, farmers, agrarian reform beneficiaries and labor unions, among other stakeholders nationwide.
Being the major sugar producer of the country, it will be launched in the province particularly in Bacolod City.
Sancho said the labor sector in Negros Occidental recognized the need to be more militant and progressive.
It will strike the heart of the province whose lifeblood is the sugar industry, he added.