BARELY reeling from what I call onslaughts of the Duterte’s economic managers on sugar industry, the sugar planters and millers are once again absorbing the follow-up lethal blow of the new acting agriculture secretary Dar who yesterday affirmed his support for the sugar liberalization program.
The Philippine Food Exporter Inc. and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce Inc., two big economic formations of the big businesses in the country, have likewise joined the chorus for sugar liberalization. The big traders are also gloating over this development.
In short, there’s no stopping them from fully implementing the administration’s liberalization of agriculture including sugar as a solid commitment to the neoliberal agenda of Asia Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and Asia Pacific Economic Forum (Apec).
Both multilateral institutions are controlled by big capitalist countries led by US, Japan, Australia and European Union (EU) which have been pushing the neoliberal agenda of liberalization, deregulation and privatization to flood with their excess goods the economies of backward member countries, while protecting their own thru high tariffs and other financial and technical restrictions.
With liberalization of sugar almost a done deal policy, the domestic market will be flooded with cheaper sugar from other sugar-producing countries like Thailand and Vietnam, and even from as far as South American and Caribbean countries. The big industrial and commercial users of sugar will certainly shift to cheaper supplies to boast their profit.
Compounded by the price manipulations done by big traders and retailers, sugar import liberalization will be a death blow to the Philippine sugar economy. Local sugar planters and millers will not be able to compete in the environment.
But the damage will be worse in Negros where its economy is largely dependent on sugar, and so the lives of more than 300,000 small sugar planters and 20,000 mill workers, and thousands more of small retailers.
Right now, it is tiempo muerto or dead season in Negros, a phenomenon so pronounced only in this island. It is a season from May to early September when there’s not much work in sugar farms, and the milling stops, and so most local businesses are down. It’s practically the remittances of OFWs that keep the local economy afloat.
Sugar workers and their kin flock to the urban centers for odd jobs to survive. Unfortunately, urban economy is as bad as the rural, hardly producing sustainable jobs because it is also largely retailing and commando economy-based which do not produce significant employment.
I kept on repeating that the lasting and just policy to pursue is to re-engineer Negros monocrop sugar-based economy towards democratization of lands (not feudal monopolies and haciendas), promoting diverse crops for food security and local market, capacitating and financing rural cooperatives and farmers associations, generating rural jobs, food sustainability and developing rural industries, backed by good infrastructures and renewable energies.
Sugar industry could still be maintained but its production volume has to be based on defined and absorbable local market and equally shared by small and medium planters, and most important, with the state financial and technical support, and as well as support of state-controlled trading and market system.
If I may suggest, the decisive initiative should be taken by the provincial government, small agricultural producers, small and medium sugar planters associations, agricultural labor associations and federations, national line agencies, local government units, who as a one stakeholders body, will do the re-engineering and road mapping of Negros economy.
The DILG, in its capacity as primos interparis and in the spirit of strengthening good governance as basis for inclusive and sustainable development, can help the provincial government enforce the re-engineering plan through a memorandum, exhorting every concerned institution and association to take part in the re-engineering work, and disciplining those who will not take part or even resist.
A planning body with adequate technical support, with representations from major stakeholders, can take the lead role in this work.
Done right, good and well, the rest will unfold and shape up to meeting the goal.
Of course, as often said, this is easier said than done. But this is easier done when the provincial governor, the DILG and other major stakeholders, carry out with strong political will. Yes, political will, no less.
Unless this is done, there is no way that Negros can fight and win over the neoliberal onslaughts, and all the provincial government and LGUs can do will be the same, collect taxes, repair roads and bridges, make ego-boaster legislations which nobody follows and enforce, and deliver token services, all in repetitive and mechanical fashion, lifeless.
If nobody takes actions now, it won’t be long that others so desirous and determined to effect real social change, will do it. Believe me guys.