THE labor sector in Negros Occidental has expressed alarm over reports that new Agriculture Secretary William Dar is backing the proposed liberalization of the country’s sugar industry.
Philippine Food Exporters Inc. (Philfoodex) president Roberto Amores, in a report, said Dar is supportive of the liberalization scheme and in opening the local market to more imported sugar.
For the local labor sector, Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SSIM) convenor Wennie Sancho said such pronouncement is alarming, something to be feared for.
Sancho, also the secretary general of General Alliance of Workers Associations (Gawa), said sugar industry liberalization is a thing that they dreaded most. Though they already have a bit of idea that after the rice tariffication law, sugar will follow.
“We are not expecting that the incoming agriculture secretary would be in favor of sugar import liberalization,” he said, adding that “we thought for a while that he would adopt measures protecting the sugar industry.
On May 1, SSIM along with other labor, farmers and workers groups in the province launched the Sugar Watch Philippines in the bid to have a more collective and stronger force against the sugar import liberation plan of the government.
For them, the proposed measure will result in adverse economic effects especially to about 84,000 farmers and 720,000 industrial workers in the country’s sugar industry.
It can be recalled that 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, stakeholders including block farms, agrarian reform beneficiaries and workers, planters federation and associations, sugar millers, refiners, bioethanol producers, and bagasse-based power generators in the country have already adopted a resolution expressing their collective stand against the proposed deregulation of sugar importation during the Sugar Industry Stakeholders’ Summit in Quezon City in February this year.
The local labor sector has already issued two opposition manifestos.
Aside from which, 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 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.
Dar, in a report, said he will still study the proposal and that he needs to meet with the officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) first.
If this is the case, Sancho said sugar workers and producers might prepare themselves for whatever measures that need to be taken in order to defend the survival of the sugar industry.
The labor group, he said, is planning to meet with the farmers and workers to discuss the problem.
Sancho said this is an impending disaster to the sugar industry, particularly in Negros as they have already expressed in several forums.
“We hope he (Dar) will be appraised by the stakeholders of the sugar industry,” he said, adding that “it is important that the new secretary with all due respect should also consult the stakeholders.”
So whatever position he may have at the moment might be reconsidered amid many concerns raised before, the labor leader also said.
In a statement earlier, the Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations (Confed) opposed the call of the food processors to deregulate the industry and allow open importation of sugar.
Its spokesperson Raymond Montinola said it seems that the lobby to liberalize sugar importation in the country has been resurrected.
This is through food processors and manufacturers who comprise a miniscule market in terms of sugar usage, he added.*