AS THEY lauded the “overwhelming support” of the Senate, stakeholders have expressed optimism that the resolution passed by 22 senators urging the Executive Department not to pursue the planned import liberalization will strengthen the sugar industry.
Sugar Regulatory Administration board member Emilio Yulo III, representing the sugar producers, said the overwhelming support of the senators will hopefully allay fears of stakeholders.
Yulo said the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry as announced by the economic managers will not only be suspended for six months to a year.
“It will never happen for as long as we have senators who continue to champion the plight of sugar producers and workers, including the millions of others who are dependent on this industry,” he added.
The official also thanked the Senate for seeing the importance of the SRA as a vital agency that will look after the welfare of industry stakeholders as well as the consuming public.
On Monday, November 11, almost all senators have adopted and passed the new resolution with the end view of safeguarding the sugar farmers and industry workers in 20 provinces in the country including Negros Occidental.
The Senate Resolution No. 213 was introduced yesterday 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 stakeholders of sugar industry.
Zubiri, in a statement, said he is grateful to all of his colleagues for unanimously passing the resolution that opposes the planned liberalization of the sugar industry.
The Negrense senator said that when Tatak Kalamay first raised the issue a couple of months ago, he started rallying his colleagues in the Senate against the plan of the economic managers, knowing full well that pursuing such will greatly affect the lives and livelihood of some 84,000 farmers and more than 700,000 industry workers in the country.
Tatak Kalamay is a national movement composed of multi-sectoral groups supporting the sugar industry.
“They [the senators] heard Tatak Kalamay’s plea and for as long as we are in the Senate, we assure you of our support and protection and we also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans,” Zubiri added.
Moreover, the Senate resolution further stated that 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 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.
The senators claimed that the deregulated entry of subsidized sugar into the Philippine market will be disastrous to the sugar industry, which contributes an estimated P96 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP).
The Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) that was 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.”
On February 6 this year, 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.
In the new resolution, the 22 senators 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.
They 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 No. 18 Series of 1986 and in compliance with the President’s Administrative Order No. 13 Series of 2018 as the sugar industry will tragically affect a lot of farmers and workers all over the country,” they added.
For his part, Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SSIM) convenor Wennie Sancho said the Senate resolution, which is a welcome development, has strengthened the spirit of solidarity of the workers in the sugar industry amid their vehement opposition against the liberalization.
Sancho said the resolution would serve as a wake-up call to the economic managers that sugar import liberalization would mean new economic strain for the workers at a time when the capacity to cope up with new economic problems had already been overburdened.
“To adopt this unwise recommendation would be an added form of injustice to the workers,” he added.
Frank Carbon, chief executive officer of the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there’s a need to have a lot of voices, to create and sustain the noise until the administration relent on its plan to open up the importation of sugar.
Carbon, however, said the industry has to reinvent itself now. They should be people oriented now.
“It should improve farm productivity especially among small landholdings. Maybe, it could help small farmers to move to high value crops,” he added.