Senate backs anew move vs sugar import liberalization

ALMOST all senators have adopted and passed a new resolution urging the executive department not to pursue the planned liberalization of the sugar industry with the end view of safeguarding the sugar farmers and industry workers in 20 provinces in the country, including Negros Occidental.

The Senate Resolution 213 was introduced Monday, November 11, by 22 senators, namely, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Cynthia Villar, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Aquilino Pimentel III, Joel Villanueva, Vicente Sotto III, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Pia Cayetano, Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Francis Tolentino.

The resolution stated that statements recently made by economic managers on the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry through deregulation of imports and allowing users of sugar to directly import created a stir and fear among the industry's stakeholders.

Economic managers blame the proposed liberalization of sugar imports on the costly prices of local sugar against those in the world market and that the same affects the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export, it stated.

The senators, however, said that liberalization or deregulation of the sugar industry will not affect the competitiveness of sugar-containing food products for export because it is already a policy of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to allow food exporters to openly import sugar without value-added tax or customs duties provided that the end-product is exported and not sold locally.

They said the deregulated entry of subsidized sugar into the Philippine market will be disastrous to the sugar industry, which contributes an estimated P96 billion in gross domestic product (GDP).

It will in particular negatively impact 84,000 farmers, mostly small and agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), with each farmer tilling less than a hectare of sugar farmland and 72,000 industry workers directly affecting almost a million families or five million individuals, the legislators said.

These sugar farmers and farm workers are scattered across more than 20 provinces in the country such as Cagayan Valley, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas, Cavite, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Leyte, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, North Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao, among others.

They expressed apprehensions that economic problems the liberalization would create will increase insurgency and criminality especially in sugar-producing provinces.

Zubiri, the majority floor leader, earlier said: "We have enough [supply]. If we don't have, then we will come up with a policy that will support the local industry."

"I won't let sugar import liberalization to happen, never," he said during the budget hearing of the Department of Agriculture (DA) last month.

Moreover, the Senate reiterated that the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida), enacted into law in 2015, adopts as the policy of the state "to promote the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and maximize the utilization of sugarcane resources."

It said the Sida law is barely four years in effect and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized. Thus, any plan of liberalizing it becomes irrelevant and very untimely.

It said the proposed measure will contradict President Rodrigo Duterte's thrust towards food security and will severely affect the entire agriculture sector.

"The SRA shall continue to regulate the supply of sugar pursuant to its mandate under Executive Order 18, Series of 1986 and in compliance with the President's Administrative Order 13, Series of 2018 as the sugar industry will tragically affect a lot of farmers and workers all over the country," it added.

On February 6, the Senate passed a resolution urging the Executive Department of the government to abort the plan to liberalize sugar industry.

It was introduced and adopted by 10 lawmakers including Angara, Binay, Gatchalian, Gordon, Pimentel, Villanueva, Villar, Zubiri and former senators Joseph Victor Ejercito and Loren Legarda.

It can be recalled that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said 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.

As this developed, the Department of Finance (DOF) recently proposed for such measure which was countered by oppositions from various sectors.

Zubiri earlier appealed to the DA and SRA to break its "deafening silence" by coming out strongly and "say no to sugar import liberalization as we do not need to liberalize."

Aside from the Senate, the call to stop such scheme has been gaining support from the House of Representatives.

In fact, Negrense congressmen are calling for an inquiry on sugar import liberalization plan.

Prior to this, on October 1, some congressmen introduced House Resolution 412 which expressed "the strong opposition of the House of Representatives to the planned liberalization or deregulation of the importation of sugar for the purpose of safeguarding the welfare of sugar farmers, and farm and mill workers across the country."

Among those backing the resolution included Negros Occidental representatives Francisco Benitez, Joseph Stephen Paduano, Maria Lourdes Arroyo, Leo Rafael Cueva, Gerardo Valmayor Jr., Genaro Alvarez, and Juliet Ferrer.

The Tatak Kalamay, a national movement composed of multi-sectoral groups supporting the sugar industry, has expressed thanks to the senators for an "overwhelming show of support" for the sugar industry.

The group, in its Facebook post, said: "We also wish to express our utmost gratitude particularly to Senator Zubiri, our champion in the Senate and for spearheading the passage of this resolution, to Senator Villar for her steadfast support and to the seven Tatak Kalamay senators who have not failed us."

"Our thanks go as well to the senators who crossed party lines to support our sugarcane farmers," it added.


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