MOST Negrense solons have been characterized by their silence over issues relating to the sugar industry. Thus, it came as very pleasant and most welcome surprise when Cong. Albee Benitez (third district-Negros Occ.) announced last Friday, August 27, that he will call a sugar summit very soon.

Cong. Albee made the announcement during the awarding ceremonies and fellowship dinner of the Victorias Milling Company - Cong. Alfredo "Albee" Benitez Invitational Golf Tournament at the L Fischer Hotel.

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He stated that he will invite sugar industry stakeholders to the summit so that the industry can come up with a consensus on what needs to be done to strengthen the industry in preparation for 2015 when imported sugar can enter the country tariff-free.

Thru the summit, Albee wants to get to the bottom of what the industry needs and what he must do, as a lawmaker, to address those needs.

Even way back when he took his oath of office last June as the representative of the Third District, Albee already declared that the sugar industry will be among the top priorities in his legislative agenda.

He particularly mentioned his plan to convince sugar mills to go into cogeneration of electric power. Not only will electric power cogeneration mitigate the power shortage in the province but it will also provide an additional revenue stream for the mills.

Albee added that it is a government policy to subsidize renewal energy, as embodied in the Renewable Energy Act. Power produced from renewable sources such as bagasse will be imposed a so-called 'feed-in tariff' to ensure a 20-year guaranteed payment for investors in renewable energy sources, such as mills engaged in cogeneration.

Even now, the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) is busy setting up the feed-in tariff for different renewable energy sources.

In the state of Gujarat in India, the feed-in tariff for bagasse-based cogeneration power plants is around P4.00 per kilowatt-hour. Thus, mills which go into power cogeneration are assured that they will recover whatever investments they made in modernizing their boiler and cogeneration equipment.

Hopefully, Albee will prod the NREB to speed up their computations.

It is not only the mills which will benefit from power cogeneration. The sugarcane farmers, too, stand to gain because the mills will pay the farmers for their share of the bagassee when the mills start selling the bagasse-based electricity to third parties, such as electric distribution utilities and large commercial and industrial electric consumers.

Enrique D. Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) which is always at the forefront of issues affecting sugar producers, welcomed Cong. Albee's announcement.

Rojas stated that Cong. Benitez should focus on legislation and other measures which will completely eradicate sugar smuggling, citing that sugar smuggling is the biggest problem of the sugar industry.

It was NFSP which exposed the proliferation of sugar smuggling in Cebu. Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez recently formed a group composed of top BoC personnel to investigate the reports but some sugar industry stakeholders doubt the effectiveness of having the BoC people themselves conduct the investigation.

For Cong. Albee, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the BoC investigation. He might also want to immediately file the bill giving police powers to the Sugar Regulatory Administration so that the agency can be more effective in running against sugar smugglers.

Aside from prioritizing the eradication of sugar smuggling, Rojas also recommended to Cong. Benitez to work on programs which will improve irrigation facilities, provide infrastructure support for the industry and facilitate access to cheaper fertilizer and farm inputs.

Moreover, according to Rojas, Cong. Albee should also look into ways that will make it easier for sugar producers to avail of the Value Added Tax exemption, as provided for in the new Cooperative Law.

While the new coop law provides VAT exemption for sugar producers, the guidelines promulgated by the Bureau of Internal Revenue make it next to impossible for producers to avail of the exemption, thereby effectively making a mockery of the coop law.

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Thank you very much to Victorias Milling Company, headed by its chairman Omar Byron Mier and my tukayo, president Hubert "Butch" Tubio, for inviting me to cover the VMC-Cong. Albee golf tourney at the Vicmico Golf and Country Club.

My gratitude also goes out to the very charming Atty. Eva Rodriquez, golf club manager Gerry Monfort and Chris Saguran, Maricel Alaban and Cyril Granada of VMC's PR office and Hector Solatorio of the cane supply department. The welcome they showed made me feel as if I've never left Vicmico, though I have been living in Bacolod for some time now.

Greetings, too, to Roy Lozada, vice-president of the manufacturing division. He had some difficulty recalling who Butch Bacaoco is but he is very familiar with Cane Points. (I admit, Sir, that I look a tad more handsome in person than in my photo. Or is it the other way around?)

To Mr. Lozada and to my friends in Vicmico who follow Cane Points, salamat gid and more power to all of you!

The golf tourney was so huge a success that it begs the question, "When will the next tourney be?"

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)